When you think about countries that create great gin, France probably isn’t the first place that comes to mind. The French are better known for their Champagne and Cognac than their G&Ts. But Citadelle Gin distiller Alexandre Gabriel is intent on changing that.
Citadelle Gin is created by Ferrand Cognac, one of Cognac’s oldest houses. Gabriel has been at the helm since he bought the assets of the Ferrand family in 1989, when he was just 23. In 1990, he decided to add gin to his portfolio and was keen to use his Cognac stills to create it. A five-year battle ensued before he gained permission, as Cognac AOC decrees that no distiller is allowed to use their Cognac stills over summer, between April and October. The House of Ferrand is the only Cognac house that has negotiated to have this rule lifted.
While he fought for permission, Gabriel experimented and learned. The result is France’s first artisanal gin, which is presented in a striking blue bottle and features 19 botanicals, including coriander, cumin, nutmeg, licorice, blackcurrant and orange zest.
Gabriel told Drinks Digest that making uniquely French gin has been his aim from day one.
“I wanted to create a gin that would be flavourful, with a beautiful intense taste, while also being refreshing and complex, without being aggressive,” he said. “I tried many recipes and different methods and I couldn’t find one that suited us. So we actually invented our method, created our own distilling and infusion methods to make Citadelle.
“Excuse me to be a little bit technical, but it’s called progressive infusion. We realised it was quite unique, so we actually patented the formula. This is a method by which we respect the personality of each botanical, we don’t throw them in the
maceration vat all together. We do it one after the other, and we let it sit for a while so each one has the perfect time of infusion before it’s being distilled. Some botanicals need a long time to infuse, some require shorter time so this method respect all the different botanicals.”
Gabriel (above) grew up in the French countryside, in a region where gastronomy and drinks are “really important”.
“I grew up on a farm where we ate what we grew, and where everybody had their own opinions about great food,” he explained. “That has left a big impression on me. When I created Citadelle I really had this in mind. How could we make a gin that would be really flavorful, delicious, like a great dish or like a great perfume?
“Of course, gin is about the beauty of the juniper berries and that was a main focal point. I went on to find the best ones. I soon realised that the way to have the best ones would be to grow our own. So I worked with different botanists to find a way to grow our own juniper berries. Today, we have two fields of juniper berries surrounding the Château and we are growing towards our own independence in the supply of juniper berries. It allows us to really control our quality. It also allows us to distill the juniper berries when they are much fresher, which gives such a beautiful taste to the gin.”
Gabriel’s favourite way to drink Citadelle is in a Gin & Tonic with a lemon zest.
“It is really important to use a great quality tonic,” he said. “With a great gin you can’t use a low-grade tonic. And I love my gin tonic with the skin of a lemon, slightly expressed on top to extract the oils and then thrown in the glass. This is to me a beautiful Gin & Tonic.
“The lemon zest will complement the citrus notes of Citadelle. You have yourself a very refreshing cocktail. In the south west of France, we also enjoy pairing our Citadelle Gin & tonic with fresh oysters from our region of Charente. The perfect French aperitif with the ‘ginto’ as we say here!”
Australians fall in love with Citadelle
Jordan Ashleigh, Trade Marketing Manager, Proof & Company Australia & New Zealand, said the results of Gabriel’s labours have been well-received in the Australian market since Citadelle arrived here five years ago.
“The appeal grew from bars and restaurants, where industry members were intrigued by the unique progressive distillation method and the special agreement Alexandre Gabriel had to undertake to use the Cognac stills to distil gin.
“Over the last two to three years, Australia has well and truly taken note, and Citadelle has been accepted into Coles Liquor stores nationwide. In fact, Australia is now Citadelle’s biggest market across the globe.”
Citadelle’s sleek, elegant bottle design has increased its appeal on bar carts during the at-home mixology boom of the past 18 months.
“The design, thanks to the team at Stranger & Stranger, was awarded Gold at the Spirits Design Master 2017,” Ashleigh said. “The way the light blue, silver and white all dance together on the eye makes for a very appealing stand-out accessory, which also fits in well with any modern home.”
Citadelle Original Gin has an RRP of $75 and is avaiulable at Liquorland, Vintage Cellars, First Choice Liquor, and online retailer BoozeBud.