La Distillerie General: Making the exceptional more accessible

Just when you thought you didn’t need another booze brand, the newly launched La Distillerie Generale proves otherwise with their exclusive spirits line designed to make the exceptional a little more accessible. The range includes one or more references of various liqueurs and liquors including gentian, absinthe, vodka, gin, Armagnac, Cognac, rum, mezcal, whisky and tequila. The 35cl bottles cost from 30 – 120 Euros and are available in very limited editions at the five Paris Juhlès boutiques starting early December and on their website as of January 2018.

A bit of background…

Not to be confused with La Distillerie de Paris, La Distillerie Generale is a collaboration between a team of spirits professionals that successfully merges the power and know-how of “big brand” with the more agile creativity of “small batch.” It’s a pet project of the young and enthusiast Paul-Charles Ricard (yes, of the Ricard family of the famous pastis.) In his position, he’s long been aware of the impressive resources available within the Pernod-Ricard group in terms of distillation sites, spirits references and the vast knowledge of their master distillers and blenders and wanted to share some of these hidden treasures with the general public.

Thus La Distillerie Generale was born. Each alcohol in the line has a special link to the Pernod-Ricard portfolio, having been created or selected by professionals working with their brands. For example, the gin is an expression meant to bring something fresh to the traditional London Dry with a recipe created by Beefeater’s Master Distiller Desmond Payne. A world-renowned expert in gin, Payne recently celebrated five decades in the world of distillation and has played a critical role in maintaining the quality of both Beefeater and Plymouth Gin for a large part of his career. Additionally, he created two gin recipes for the company (Beefeater 24 and Bourrough’s Reserve.) His third and most recently released recipe is for La Distillerie Generale. Pretty impressive.

However, each spirit’s origin story is unique with others being a particular single cask selection, like their six whiskies. In this case, Chivas Master Blender Sandy Hyslop personally chose five different single malts and one single grain from their private liquid library in order to highlight the subtleties, specificities and variety of Scotch whisky.

The project’s success also relies on people outside of the Pernod-Ricard group with the collaboration of Thierry Daniel and Eric Fossard of Liquid Liquid. As founders of both Paris Cocktail Week and the Cocktails Spirits salon, both have earned formidable reputations as consultants, organizers and all round experts in the field of spirits. The two accompanied Ricard on this journey, tasting and meeting the behind-the-scenes artisans and guardians of tradition to establish the final products.

In addition to the gustatory, there was also the graphic element to be considered. Designers Paul-Bertrand Mathieu and Louis-Marie de Castelbajac ensured that the branding unified all the spirits, but also allowed each one to stand out with the use of color. The design is also inline with the essence of the project and its fresh take on something more traditional. The resulting fabric labels with hand embroidered poetic yet pop images are issued by the same workshops as the Royal Navy insignias. Each bottle comes with an equally well-designed spec sheet providing all the details including its origin.

Beyond developing a quality product, La Distillerie Generale is touching on interesting topics and tapping into upcoming trends.

Dispelling the myth that “Big is bad”…

Often consumers (especially foodies and drinks enthusiasts) have the notion that small producers are always better than big. But this is not always the case; and much of the misconception comes down to marketing jargon. Small players use terms like “artisanal”, “craft”, and “small-batch” and big business bring out the “premium” or “ultra premium” – all terms without regulation that can mislead customers.

Much industry debate and many articles have covered the pros and cons of each. But the bottom line is: both have something to bring to the table. And, in many cases, it’s commercial brands with deep pockets and a wide reach who make the first forays into new (or renewed) discoveries and open the door for smaller more niche products to enter the marketplace. There is room and reason for big and small in the spirits world and La Distillerie Generale seems to be capitalizing on the best of the both and bringing the successful result to the end consumer. 

Striving for quality with refined simplicity…

A refreshing simplicity is slipping into the cocktail and spirits world, with a pairing down of what’s behind the bar. In the beginning of the craft cocktail boom, bars were touting the size of their stock, but with some maturity early adopters are now showcasing their skills by working with a more streamlined selection of spirits. For example, les Grands Verres has not only culled their spirits to one or two per category, but they have also removed all bottles from the bar for simple aesthetic as well.

Recently, speaking to industry personality Remy Savage, and spending some time at his 20 bottle home bar, confirmed my suspicions that we’re moving to a simpler selection. Even though single spirits bars that focus on one category with dozens or hundreds of references are still important actors on the spirits scene and aren’t going anywhere, many bars will likely be moving to smaller stock. It’s interesting to think we may be moving towards possibilities of trusting one name to successfully deliver a full range of liquors. Quite frankly, it’s time consuming – and expensive – for your average consumer to research each category to decide on a home brand but La Distillerie is moving things in a direction that could make it easier and simpler for the home bartender to work exclusively with one line for all spirits, should it be a name which they trust.

Regardless of the overall concept, the most important factor in buying your booze should boil down to: do you like what’s in the bottle? To figure out the answer to that question, the full range is available for tasting in the Juhlès boutiques. All considering, La Distillerie Generale is poised to build some interesting relationships between consumer, commercial brands and creative forces. And if they maintain the same level of quality, sincerity and conceptual development, their future holds some interesting possibilities.

While their approach may be fresh, they haven’t forgone the FOMO… these are truly ephemeral offerings and once this particular limited edition is gone, it’s gone forever.

La Distillerie Generale