Whisky Magazine Issue 70
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Ted Bruning visits the distilleries making waves in Brittany.
Imagine a rugged foreshore with seals cavorting on a rocky outcrop a couple of hundred yards out to sea. The clouds are low and gunmetal-grey; there's a spatter of tepid drizzle; and steam drifts sluggishly from the open worm-tubs outside the ancient stone-built distillery.
You take a reflective sip of your smoky, peaty, single malt, freshly drawn from the bourbon cask where it's been forming and shaping for the last two years. It's too early to tell, of course; but by the time this slightly wild teenager is ready for the bottle, it could well be a world-beater. Ah, Islay!
Only this isn't Islay. It's Port-Béni just outside Pleubian on the northern Breton coast. And the single malt you're drinking should, in a few months, become the first commercial product from Brittany's newest whisky – or should that be whiskey? – distillery, Glann Ar Mor.
Distilling is nothing new in Brittany. It's cider country, like Normandy; and like Normandy, it has a long tradition of making apple brandy on the “alambics ambulants” that go from farm to farm.
The region's oldest commercial distillery, Warenghem, was founded in 1900 in the northern town of Lannion by former civil servant Leon Warenghem to produce herbal and fruit liqueurs as well as apple brandy.
But whisky is a rather more recent departure.
Warenghem sold its first bottles of Whisky Breton only in 1987; Eddu, made rather controversially from buckwheat by the Distillerie des Menhirs at Plomelin near Quimper in the south, ...