Distillerie De Paris
Hidden in a courtyard in Paris lies France’s most innovative distillery, Distillerie de Paris. Yet, rather than shouting from the rooftops, this small team of maverick Ginsmiths are letting the gin do all the talking and boy – it has a lot to say!
Distillerie de Paris brothers and owners, Nicolas and Sébastien Julhès began their (at this stage unknowing) education in the intricacies of fermentation and flavour from their parents business, a local bakery. These early years proved to be all the inspiration the duo needed to seek out a career in gastronomy and once of age, they joined the family venture helping it grow into a chocolatier, a grocery, a wine store and more.
Even though he was passionate about perfume and food, it was spirits that captured the imagination of Nicolas. His keen interest lead him into developing an aspect to the business that involved educating the public about drinks, as well as retailing spirits. Using the shop as a vehicle to communicate their passion the brothers also began experimenting with their own creations. Nicolas in particular, found an incredible freedom in the time afforded to express his ideas when working with spirits, given they are a medium where time is more forgiving compared to the ephemeral nature of working with chocolate or cheese.
He soon found himself with a consultancy role for drinks giant Diageo. Inspired by the craft movements he witnessed first hand during his fifteen years of experience as a consultant for the spirits industry, he and Sébastien decided to take the plunge and open their own distillery.
As a family, they didn’t want to establish it in the typical spirits areas such as the Cognac or Calvados regions, they were most inspired by the more American craft distilling idea of rapid innovation and continuous development. To both brothers, imitation is not flattery; it is not respecting the heritage and beauty of these well-known spirits. They set out from the offset to innovate, not imitate.
With no history of distilling in the capital, overcoming legislation was a long process. No fewer than five years of political wrangling, form filling and rubber-stamping ensued. Having established a good working relationship with German still maker Holstein, once the project looked set to complete, they commissioned a 400lt beauty. In late 2014, the Distillerie de Paris’ still was the first to be licensed in the capital for well over a hundred years and in 2015 production began in earnest.
At the time of writing (December 2015), they have four gins (as well as quite a diverse portfolio of other spirits). Talking of his reasoning behind picking flavours Nicolas looks at botanicals like building materials. You can love iron, but if you make a house solely out of it – you have a bunker. You need to combine other materials to transform it a modern home. The same goes with juniper. It’s essential but it needs other botanicals to transform it into a complex modern spirit.
He also approaches it with more of a perfumer’s attitude towards creating an experience, a journey, as opposed to an exact recipe. In this light, the overall lineup of botanicals are not hidden, but nor are they disclosed or banded around in the same way they are for other distillers. This is more art than science, sentiment over exacting measurements and experimental trail blazing than faithful recreation each time.
A quick note to you super geeks who email us for technical details; all their gins are distilled using a grape based neutral spirit and are done using a one shot method, cut using demineralised water.
The distillery’s first gin was aptly named Batch 1. With huge bergamot and softer citrus upfront, the gin’s citrus forward nature makes it a zesty and lively gin. Booming juniper, complimented by jasmine and oolong tea. The bergamot returns alongside coriander seed providing a long finish. Even though it’s 43% ABV the huge essential oil content smoothes the alcohol and is what defines this gin, it also gives it a luscious mouthfeel.
Distillerie de Paris’ second offering is a gin distilled using quinine in the botanical line up. With familiar tones to Batch 1, the big difference is the bitter, drying edge from the quinine. Waxy lime peels zing on the palate, shackled by the dry quinine and complimented by the gin’s core of juniper, coriander and angelica. Bergamot is clear once again but there’s something distinctly exotic and spiced to finish.
Distillerie de Paris’ Gin Tonik (43% ABV) is a complex characterful gin that takes you on a journey. Its rich base tones linger long after the glass has disappeared too. It is worth noting that this gin was one of the first to achieve this hybrid G&T in a spirit itself. Once mixed in the classic concoction it positively shines and is one to seek out for those who like a dry G&T. With a lack of quality tonic brands widely available in the French market, the gin is also ideally placed to make the most of the market as it mixes beautifully with soda water.
The third expression from Distillerie de Paris is a barrel-aged variant, rested in French and American oak casks. The process begins with “Folle Blanche” (the highly sought Cognac grape variety). They distil it into a Brandy first, then using it as a base re-distill it with juniper, citrus and spices. It’s then placed in bespoke oak casks (designed for micro distilleries specifically) and left to mature.
At an ABV of 41%, this liquid is a true hybrid of genever, brandy and gin. The spirit itself is very complex to begin with; let alone once the juniper and other botanicals are added and the influence of the wood thereafter.
Pin pointing exactly what this complicated crossbreed tastes of proves to be a little tricky and is reflected by the distillery’s own indecision of calling it Brandy, Gin Style and then changing it to Gin with a Brandy Touch. It’s both but neither and to be honest, who cares – it’s just tasty!
To taste, the thick texture coats your mouth. The viscous spirit mutes the alcohol releasing the flavours slowly. There’s a pronounced spice accentuated by the soft wood while the citrus emerges gently into a crescendo of fruity, dense and expressive flavours. This is a gin that is perfect for a Martini or a Negroni.
Their fourth gin is named IPA (45% ABV) after the use of hops in the distillation process. Unlike with beer, hops are not a bittering agent in the gin, as this characteristic isn’t brought over during distillation, rather the delicate citrusy notes of the botanical are adopted in the end spirit.
In the case of Distillerie de Paris’ gin, the hops are pre-eminent on both the nose and on the palate, at which point the citric fizz is most noticeable. Incidentally, it’s where the gin is at its most tasty too! The IPA is particularly delicate and refined, it is one of the best examples of taking inspiration from one category and transferring it into another.
Collectively, the four gins are not just impressive but offer a panoply of options when making cocktails. Each are clever in the way they incorporate some of the major trends of 2015/16. They cross proliferate ideas and flavours from numerous categories which will appeal to many simply on this basis alone.
So what next?
It’s clear to see that the team are excited and driven about the distillery’s mission to innovate. There is a raw passion for the new and a genuine love of the industry, and perhaps more fundamentally – for flavour. They might have a more philosophical approach to the future and to what constitutes “success”, yet this just adds to the easy charm and distillery’s appeal. In this regard the outlook sways into a more philosophical mentality – prioritising quality of life, family and working for pleasure and passion, not solely for an end outcome.
They have no intention to become the darling Parisian spirit, celebrated only for its location and while that was a big decision (given it would be so easy to do this and be the toast of the town and make tapping into exports easy due to the geographical calling card), we commend them for not wanting to do so. They are not about “locavore” culture and want to be known for the quality of their gins and their progressive and experimental nature.
There are no plans to scale up in the current location yet and central to their future is the need to maintain the experimental nature of the site in Paris. This multi-layered and intriguing combination makes Distillerie de Paris genuinely exciting. They embody the sentiment that is evidently at the heart of the entire distillery team – one that is first and foremost about a love for delectable spirits and a desire to share in good company.
With plans to continue spreading the word about their spirits far and wide, along with some touch ups here and there (they constantly look to improve) don’t be surprised to see them in the UK within the next 12 months. Moreover, expect to see bars all over Europe clambering to take on their spirits and requesting the chance to make a limited batch run with them.
While we have no idea what they will do next when it comes to gin (to be fair, neither do they yet!), we look forward to tasting their creations once they are ready. If the last few are anything to go by, it’ll be a joy to behold.
For more information about Distillerie de Paris, visit their website: www.distilleriedeparis.com
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