Spirits and Eaux de Vie
We have been championing 'small batch' distillates for 50 years so it is gratifying that they've finally become fashionable; good things come to those who wait!
At their hilltop headquarters at La Cadière, the Bunan family use an antique, wood-fired copper still to make their excellent marcs. Their Vieux Marc Égrappé is aged in oak barrels and has a deep amber colour and is evocative of dried fruit and spices so makes a contemplative digestif. Their Blanche de Marc sees no wood and is a crystal clear palate-cleanser that should be served ice cold like a grappa.
Maison Joannes Colombier are based in Villette de Vienne in the Northern Rhône where they produce their superb Eau de Vie de Poire William. With fragrant pear aromas and an orchard fruit palate it is traditionally served chilled before or after a meal. The bottle containing a whole Williams pear is an after dinner conversation piece in its own right. How do they do that?
Five generations of the Dèche family have made Bas Armagnac at Château de Millet near Éauze so they are fully au fait with their métier. Aged for a minimum of 5 years in 400 litre oak barrels, their tawny-hued Armagnac is redolent of autumnal fruit and baked spices and gains complexity with bottle age.
The Manguin distillery enjoys an enviably secure location on the Île de Barthelasse, France's largest river island, just north of Avignon. Their premium Pastis is enriched with pear brandy and makes for quintessential summer holiday drinking.
The Beyer family have been cultivating vines in Alsace since 1580 but also have a side-line distilling Eaux de Vie. Their fragrant 'Mirabelles' bottling is bursting with yellow plum scents and flavours and is best served chilled.
Based in Pons, in the heart of the Charente, Maison Monteru is an innovative distillery deploying single grape varieties to great effect. Their 'Folle Blanche' brandy is double distilled and aged for 3 years before bottling, giving a deep amber colour and a long, smooth finish.
Brighton Gin has been at the forefront of the British gin boom that has seen sales soar over the last 5 years. Orange peel is a key component of its botanical blend so it should be served with a slice of orange never lemon!
Completing our metaphorical drinks trolley is Julian Temperley's 'five year-old' Somerset Cider Brandy. With a rich fruity palate and warming spicy undertones, it makes for terrific fireside imbibing.