A Pastis as the sun goes down

In September 2023, at the 25th Spirits Selection by CMB, some 2,400 entries competed for the competition’s highly coveted medals. Among them, a Breton pastis came away with the revelation trophy for France. We take a closer look at this amazing distillery in the far western tip of France, where the sun sets last.

If you head west, right to the far corner of mainland France in the Iroise Sea, you will come across the island of Ouessant. This minute piece of land, lost amidst the waves where the Atlantic Ocean begins, is home to a similarly hidden distillery. The Distillerie d’Ouessant was founded in 2016 and stems from a captivating encounter with the island and the realisation that its soils, buffeted by the ocean spray and water, could for the first time ever produce a unique drink – whisky. Clément Nageotte, the co-founder and president of the Distillerie d’Ouessant recounts: “The island used to be home to over 100 windmills. The barley that used to be grown here inspired the purpose of this project which is aimed at reintroducing cereals. Also, a closer look at the plants on the island prompted the idea of producing a pastis whilst the team’s taste for spices spawned a gin, alongside a range of beers”.

Clément Nageotte, who runs the Distillerie d’Ouessant, and production manager Joëlle Lalbin – OUEST FRANCE

A holistic approach
The aim is to roll out a more broad-ranging strategy with a view to leveraging the island’s resources and generate economic activity. “Driven by a desire to create sustainable jobs on the island all year round, production at Distillerie d’Ouessant is handled by Joëlle and Mathilde. They perpetuate the island’s tradition of female predominance such was the importance of women on the island when the sailors were away at sea”. Facilities at the Distillerie d’Ouessant have been designed “like on a boat” and a commitment has been made to support the energy transition on the island, which is not linked up to the national grid. It uses a 100% electrically fired still and processes that can collect energy and water in order to preserve the island’s resources.

A one-of-a-kind maritime pastis
Pastis from Ouessant Island is a craft spirit. Its exclusive recipe is inspired by the local flora which covers the island – plants like wild fennel, rock samphire and heather. “The plants and spices used are organic and sourced from Breton and French suppliers in the Monts d’Arhée and South-West France. Several suppliers are used to ensure the finest quality of each ingredient and consistency over time. We like to work with independent companies like ourselves”. For the other aspects, brewing and mashing for the beer and whisky use water from the island. The spirits mature in a cellar constantly buffeted by the wind and the ocean storms in the winter. The awarded pastis was lauded for its rich floral aromatics complementing the well-judged balance between the aniseed and the liquorice. “Its nose and length on the palate make it a quality aperitif, both diluted with cool water in the traditional way and in cocktails, but also neat as an after-dinner drink like a whisky. One of our customers, a female Michelin-starred chef, uses it to make ‘bonbons’ served with coffee. Personally, I like to enhance the aniseed with sautéed fennel served with bass, another product of the sea”.

And for the future?
The team at the distillery was delighted by this international accolade. “This award is a huge source of pride for a small, young craft distillery like ours. The Grand Gold medal stems primarily from our commitment to quality and from the high standards of our R&D. It will build on our reputation by opening doors for us outside Brittany – in France and abroad. It strengthens our determination to produce high quality drinks that show unique aromatics and flavours for an audience of connoisseurs. It is highly positive and reassuring to see that in 10 years, craft spirits have established a place for themselves alongside the market giants. A new wave of consumers is prioritising flavours, experience and a story through products crafted with care and passion. They are more motivated by quality, and we will be there for them!” Watch this space. This is where dreams begin, when you can savour such an unlikely drink along the ocean shores, on the island of Ouessant, one of the Ponant Islands. In fact, ‘Ponant’ is an ancient French term for ‘west’ or ‘where the sun sets’ – the perfect place to enjoy a pastis with the setting sun in the background…

Charles Piron

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