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The Sipsmith Blog

Around the World in 80 Gins: French Gin

in Articles December 22, 2013

Next on our international gin tour, we’re crossing the English Channel to explore the world of French gin.

Our neighbours fall in the top 10 gin-consuming nations in the world, and these days they’re home to a blossoming distilling scene. Read on to find out what makes gin à la française quite so special…

History

While the French are famous throughout the world for their oenoculture, they also know a thing or two about gin.

Genièvre, or French genever (gin’s predecessor), has a long history. Beginning in 1775, King Louis XVI authorised two Frenchmen to make gin at the Citadelle of Dunkirk. The resulting set-up became the official royal distillery, which housed 12 copper pot stills. French genever quickly gained a reputation as a favoured spirit, and was frequently smuggled into England throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

However, artisanal genever production eventually lost favour in France, and the gin that was made was primarily industrial and large-scale. That’s only recently started changing, as French distilleries are making use of their natural bounty (grapes, grapes, and more grapes) to craft unique spirits.

What do they drink

While the larger brands (Gordon’s, Bombay Sapphire, Beefeater) expectedly have a presence in France, the country is also home to a handful of artisanal distilleries that are producing decidedly different French gin.

One such producer is G’Vine. Based in the Cognac region, the distillery makes ultra premium, unquestionably French gin – instead of using a neutral grain alcohol base they employ the region’s harvest and start their gin off with a foundation of grape spirit. In fact, their entire production is tied to the cycles of the wine harvest. The Floraison bottling, created with the annual blossoming of the vines in mind, is delicate and highly floral. Their Nouaison gin, named for the first small green berries that appear early in the season each year, is a woodsy, heartier iteration.

Citadelle, meanwhile, takes their inspiration from the royal distillery in Dunkirk so many years ago. Made in a distillery that’s primarily used for Cognac, the gin is distilled over a naked flame in a copper pot still. The complex spirit uses a range of botanicals – Dutch cumin, German angelica, Spanish almonds, amongst many others – to create its well-rounded gin. The distillery also produces a premium, oak-aged version of the gin.

One more intriguing entry is Boudier. Known as well for their Crème de Cassis and broad portfolio of liqueurs, the historic brand also produces a London Dry Gin and a Saffron Gin that melds British and Indian inspiration.

How do they drink it

France’s nascent craft cocktail scene is being led by a number of top bars in Paris. The likes of Le Coq, Sherry Butt, and Le Mary Celeste shake up refined, gin-based cocktails – expect to see more on the horizon.

Cocktail recipe

G’Vine has created the following cocktail to show off the delicacy and floral quality of their gin. Rounded out with Esprit de June (a grape flower-based liqueur) and Brut Champagne, it’s an unmistakably Gallic concoction.

The G’Vine Orchid

45 ml G’Vine Floraison (or another floral gin)

45 ml pink grapefruit juice

15 ml Esprit de June liqueur

45 ml Brut Champagne

Pour the Champagne into a highball glass. Add the pink grapefruit juice, Esprit de June, and gin in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into the glass. Garnish with an orchid.

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