When most people think of France, they imagine the twinkling lights of Paris, the lux beach towns of the Riviera, or perhaps verdant hillside vineyards. Personally, I call to mind gently rolling, golden fields of grain. France is, after all, the largest agricultural producer in Europe, with more than half of its land used for one crop or another. Many whisky fans may be surprised to know that France produces almost all the barley used for European malt whisky production and that they have been distilling spirits longer than any other European country. They are also the largest consumer of whisky per capita in the world (mostly blends). That impressive history and insatiable thirst for brown water have naturally led them to produce their own whisky. A lot of it, actually. “French Whiskies are on the rise, both in quality and quantity,” according to Dan Cooney, owner of French spirits importer Heavenly Spirits. “ArmoriK was the only French whisky being produced only 25 years ago, but today there are almost 100 distillers making whisky in France.” With that kind of growth, it won’t be long before a multitude of French whisky options washes up on our shores. 

A few standout offerings have already arrived. Since becoming leading sellers in France, ArmoriK, and Bastille, two of the jewels in the Heavenly Spirits portfolio, have made their way to select markets in the United States over the last decade. I caught up with David Roussier, Director of ArmoriK Whisky, and Edouard Daurcourt, Director of Bastille, to talk about the growing category of French whisky and discuss what makes their French whiskies so special.

David Roussier


The Warenghem Distillery in Brittany has been making spirits and liqueurs for over a century, but it wasn’t until 1983 that they finally got around to producing a whisky. ArmoriK was the first double-distilled whisky made in France, and it has set a high bar since then for the dozens of new whisky makers emerging across the country. “ArmoriK is known for producing a solidly classic scotch-style single malt,” says Dan, but with a uniquely French twist, of course. 

The whisky is distilled on traditional copper stills and produced from 100% French malted barley grown in rocky soil just six miles from the sea in a wet and windy environment, not unlike the Scottish Highlands. That unique terroir is evident in the kiss of salty smoke found in several of Armorik’s expressions. ArmoriK’s flagship offering is a traditional mix of ex-bourbon and refill sherry, but the portfolio also includes a number of unique finishes, from classics like Sherry to more unique expressions aged in Armagnac, Pineau des Charentes, and local Breton oak. 

Santé: What makes French whisky unique from other whiskies on the market right now? 

David Roussier: French whisky is unique because we are the only country where we master every step of the production, from barley growing to cooperage. We also like to think that French Whisky is about elegance. The French are famous for quality spirits, and that reflects in the whisky too. We also use a lot of different wine finishes not found in single malts from other countries.

Santé: What makes ArmoriK whiskies unique?

David Roussier: Armorik is a certified Breton Single Malt Whisky (geographical indication), which means that the Breton origin makes a difference in terms of water used, climate for maturation, etc. The standards are quite close to the Scottish [standards], but we have a completely different climate that changes a lot in terms of length and quality of maturation, and growth of the barley. We are also one of the only brands to be certified organic on the whole range now, and we use unique oak casks from the local forests.

Santé: The French are notorious for their whisky consumption. What are the challenges and advantages of launching a whisky in a country so discerning about its whisky?

David Roussier: The challenges were to convince people that we could make great whiskies in France. Being the first in the eighties was a huge challenge. At that time, people were not as open-minded as they are now. The challenge is also on quality. French are experienced whisky drinkers; they want quality. Thus Armorik is focused on quality. The advantages are that once your whisky gets its legitimacy through quality, people are really faithful and proud to drink Breton whisky. And the market in France is really big, so there is a lot of potential for quality Breton whiskies such as Armorik.

Santé: What does the future hold for ArmoriK? 

David Roussier: We are currently planning to open a cooperage, a malting facility, and we will continue to increase our aged stock of whisky to launch older expressions of ArmoriK. A 10-year-old and a 15-year-old are on the way. We might also launch some additions to the Yeun Elez (heavily peated) range in the near future!


The Daucort family has been passionate about spirits and the art of distillation for four generations now, operating a distillery in the Cognac region of France where they produced vodka and liqueurs. Inspired by his Irish mother, Jean-Marc Dacourt studied the art of whisky-making in Scotland. He returned to France where, together with his brother Edouard, he set about to make “a singular whisky with a unique French savoir-faire.” Bastille 1789 was that whisky.

Bastille 1789 is produced as both a single malt and a blended whisky, a style still wildly popular with the French and the rest of the world. It is made from grains grown in the northeastern part of the country, where some of the world’s finest Scotch producers also source their malt. After fermenting with a proprietary yeast strain over a century old, distillation occurs on a Charentais copper still, typically used in Cognac production. The whisky is then aged in Limousine oak barrels that previously held Sauternes, Cognac, Burgundy, or Sherry, depending on the expression. “It’s a deliciously smooth, blended scotch-style whisky,” says Dan, “which on the palate is both dry and slightly fruity.”

Santé: What makes French whisky unique from other whiskies on the market right now? 

Edouard Daucourt: First of all, France is the main producer of malted barley in Europe and the leading exporter of malt in the world. That means most of the malt used in European whiskies is grown in France. It makes sense that France, a country known historically for its distillation expertise and unique experience producing spirits like Cognac, Armagnac, and Calvados, can make a really good whisky. 

Santé: What makes Bastille whiskies unique?

Carole Berteaud: The temperate climate adds a certain quality to our cellars, and this is very important in the aging process. We noticed that some of our French whiskies could attain very interesting profiles in a shorter amount of time than some traditional Scotch or Irish whiskies. We believe the number of years of aging is not as important as the end results. As we continue to develop and progress in whisky production, the French will likely break with some of the various regulation codes of other whisky-producing nations.

Santé: The French are notorious for their whisky consumption. What are the challenges and advantages of launching a whisky in a country so discerning about its whisky?

Carole Berteaud: French People are big consumers of whisky indeed, and they are looking more and more for products made in France. They are now aware that French whiskies are quality products which are very positive for our brands. In France, price competition with some foreign whisky brands is still a challenge. As our production volumes increase, this should level off.  

Santé: What are the future plans for your brands? 

Carole Berteaud: We are currently working on new products in the Bastille range for limited editions. Stay tuned!

I might also add that the French are known to possess a certain persistence in the quest for elegance. – David Rouseua

The Quest For Elegance

Armorik and Bastille whiskies are helping to put the category of French whisky on the proverbial map, not only because of their quality but also the range of unique flavors they offer the whisky consumer. “France is a country of taste, known for its diversity of landscape and regional culture. This diversity is the strength of French whiskey,” according to a spokesperson from the French Whisky Federation, an informal regulatory body representing 95% of French whisky producers. “This diversity is…found in the various profiles of each French whiskey producer. The common point of these producers…is to create high-quality whiskies, which reflect our respective terroirs.” Whether in its uniquely coastal profile, as with many ArmoriK expressions, or the elements of Limousine oak aging, as with Bastille, both brands are finding their own unique ways to represent this growing category.

 “It seems to me that, like with everything the French do, they bring a certain flair and refinement. They see spirit distillation as an art, as well as a craft, and so they take it very seriously,” says Dan. That dedication is evident in the remarkable success of both brands. In only a few short years of significant market exposure in the United States, ArmoriK and Bastille have already received numerous accolades from prestigious publications and internationally recognized competitions. “The French are known to possess a certain persistence in the quest for elegance,” David says. Having tasted the results from ArmoriK and Bastille, I can honestly say that persistence has paid off. 

Originally published in 2021

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