Cigar Aficionado

Whisky with a French Accent

The country that gave us Cognac and Armagnac has made some notable forays into foreign-sounding spirits of late: vodka (Grey Goose and Ciroc) and gin (Citadelle). Now France crosses the ultimate distillation frontier with the release of Bastille 1789, a whisky made of French grain and distilled and aged in its renowned brandy region.

Whisky (or whiskey) is, of course, most synonymous with Scotland and Ireland, France’s neighbors to the north, but it’s a category proven to know no geographic bounds, with examples now hailing from America, Canada, Japan, Australia and India, to name just a few. “So why not a Gallic whisky?” thought Jean-Marc Daucourt; and the creator of Jean-Marc XO vodka set to work on a grain distillate with a decidedly French accent.

The result has a mashbill that is a mix of barley and wheat grown in the northeast of France, an area known to supply barley for Scotch makers. (While Scotch whisky must legally be distilled and aged in Scotland, its grains needn’t be grown there.) Fermentation of Bastille 1789 then takes place within the Cognac appellation in the southeast part of the country, with water from a spring in the Grand Champagne sub-region of Cognac. The distillation happens there as well, utilizing alembic pot stills normally used for brandy.

Daucourt, who studied distillation in Scotland in his younger years, uses a combination of French Limousin oak, cherry wood and acacia casks for the aging, which is said to be between five and seven years. The whisky is described as a blend.

The effect is quite different than all but the most delicate whiskies—no bite, no peat. It compares to Canadian whisky in smoothness, but flavor notes are fruity, rather than grainy.

The whisky had a limited release in Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C. in January and will roll out nationwide in May.

Bastille 1789 (80 proof or 40 percent alcohol by volume, $29.95)

APPEARANCE: Golden yellow color, thin quick legs

NOSE: Floral aroma with top notes of olive oil.

PALATE: Syrupy honey, tutti fruity

FINISH: Ends up very sweet like rock candy

CIGAR PAIRING: The first impression is to match it something very light to match its structure, but the best approach is the opposite direction. Give it something with balls to let it search out flavors to balance out the sweetness.