A promise is a promise. So we will go, together, through the fields. A bucolic stroll ? Everything is relative. But I promise you, this one will be informative.
I will try to offer you a selection, not exhaustive, of some of the cereals that are part of the French whisky world. Some of them are real stars of the industry… They are even given protected designations. Others, more unusual, will arouse the curiosity of our readers in search of singularity.
But we remind you that, in theory, there are as many possibilities of whiskies as there are species of edible cereals. In France, no less than twelve major species are cultivated, giving distillers just as many alternatives for making their eau-de-vie. And each eau de vie will exalt a different aroma, from herbaceous and cereal notes to undergrowth and fruity notes.
THE MUST-HAVE: BARLEY
To the eye, barley is easily distinguished from wheat by its LONG BARNS protruding from the ear. Its yields are extremely good, with 400 litres of pure alcohol per tonne of grain distilled.
As the faithful followers of the House of Benjamin Kuentz know, barley is currently the MAIN CEREAL processed by the house. It is the star plant, used throughout the world to make the finest and most complex whiskies.
Have you had the opportunity to taste malted barley distillates before aging? If so, you need to know what fine aromatics these white spirits can deliver. These eaux de vies develop notes of honey, orchard fruits, and fresh cereal aromas that awaken the senses and call for spring… It’s like a desire to plunge your nose back into it.
Don’t hesitate to ask, during your visits to distilleries in France or in Navarre, to smell this “white alcohol” of malted barley, you will understand why I am talking so much about it! Fans of our whisky (D’UN) VERRE PRINTANIER will surely have these sweet aromas in mind, we manage to keep them intact by aging our brandy in almost neutral oak barrels.
In France, all maltsters work with barley, which accounts for the majority of the production.
I’m not introducing you to him… am I? Wheat is the MOST CULTIVATED plant in France and in Europe, and has been for centuries, a staple food for the population since the Middle Ages.
Thus, THE FIRST grain WHISKIES were originally made from wheat and this cereal is still distilled abundantly, allowing for large yields. Several varieties of wheat exist but for the most part, the resulting spirits are not as complex as those of barley.
This is why, in France, we choose to integrate wheat in the blended whiskies, THE “BLEND”, along with barley in most cases.
THE OUTSIDER, RYE
Rye has been making a comeback in France for a few years now, especially in the Jura, Isère and Ile-de-France regions. Indeed, this cereal, very close to barley in appearance, has many advantages. Among the plants mentioned in the article, it is the one that allows to obtain the most pure alcohol from a ton of raw material: 500 LITRES. Secondly, it is hardy, which means that it grows easily even in poor soils.
In addition to its purely agricultural advantages, rye alcohol is of excellent quality and its pronounced, spicy flavours are very interesting and trendy: “rye whisky” is appearing in most wine shops and a clientele is emerging, attracted by the atypical and powerful character of this cereal which goes very well with fashionable cocktails.
Go and taste the rye offered by our French distillers, I hope you will be won over!
A few words about buckwheat seem essential to me.
On the one hand, to avoid a fight with Benjamin, who is Breton on his mother’s side and very attached to his roots: if I fail to treat wheat… Black, I risk a look… Black. An eye for an eye.
On the other hand, this flowering plant – it is not a cereal, biologically, but a plant with bunches of small white flowers -, distilled in Brittany, gives a very interesting result, WITH NOTES OF FRESH AND DRY FRUIT.
In addition, its local, Celtic roots speak to all those who have ever set foot on Breton soil!
Although very LITTLELY USED BY OUR FRENCH DISTILLERS, a few words on corn seem to me essential. In fact, in addition to being distilled in the United States, BOURBON CELEBRATION must be made from mostly corn grains. A legal threshold has even been set at 51%, to be able to claim the appellation.
Corn is a grass, whose stalk can measure more than 4m. The production of the plans, important, allows a return almost as high as that of the barley, and it is one of the reasons for which the first world producer of corn, the USA, incorporates it mainly in its recipe of Bourbon.
In France, corn is not much distilled, despite the fact that it is the SECOND largest VEGETABLE PRODUCTION in the country, after wheat. This is easily explained by the fact that corn brings a very (too?) simple aroma. In the USA, Bourbon is aged in new barrels. The wood is therefore the primary instigator of the aroma, which explains the neutrality sought in the distillate.
Sorghum is a very similar plant to sugar cane. It is similar in appearance: a single, solid stem, separated by rings, several meters long.
But this stem… Like sugar cane, contains an abundant sap which, once distilled, creates a WATER OF LIFE CLOSE TO RHUM. This is why, for legal reasons, sorghum is a sulphurous cereal: it is very controversial in the United States for the making of whiskies, unless the producer makes an effort to dehusk its panicle, which is the inflorescence containing the seeds.
Recently, some producers of sorghum molasses brandy have been accepted as “whiskey” in the USA, whereas previously it was a “specialty spirit”. The legal uncertainty surrounding this plant makes it all the more attractive!
In Europe, the legislation around whisky is different. Thus, contrary to the United States where whisky is a “GRAIN WATER”, it is a “CEREAL WATER” on the old continent. This is how some sorghum whiskies can develop surprising aromas, perfectly different from more traditional whiskies.
Sorghum projects are currently underway in France. Can’t wait to see the results, if they come out!