I found Bastille 1789 Whiskey in a French cafe in San Francisco (specifically, the aptly named Cafe Bastille). I’d never heard of a French whiskey before and was instantly intrigued, ordering a couple glasses of it to accompany my beef bourguignon. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but one sip and I was intrigued — clearly, I needed a bottle of my own to review.
Jean-Marc and Charles Daucourt, an uncle and nephew duo, were born into a family of cognac distillers in Angoulême, France. After spending most of their lives producing the quintessential cognac spirit, they decided that they wanted to branch out and start producing something different by using the same distilling process and concepts. Following a successful launch of a vodka, they chose to try to create a whiskey that has some of the same terroir as their cognac products.
The Daucourt distillery also produces Moulin vodka, Voulez sparkling liquer, and OR-G flavored vodka.
There’s not a whole lot of information about the process or the product. Which always makes me a little uneasy, but we do know some things:
The whiskey is technically a single malt whiskey that is produced from malted barley, slightly peated like the Scotch whisky variety, and distilled through a cognac still which tends to produce a more floral and fruity spirit. The barley for the whiskey comes from northwest France from the same farms where most of the Scottish distillers get their ingredients.
From there the whiskey is divided up and aged in three different barrels: one former red wine barrel, one a former white wine barrel, and one a former sherry wine barrel, for a period of 10 years. The end result is blended together to the taste of the distillers, bottled, and shipped.
Definitely one of my favorite bottles, to start.
There body is square with crisp corners and flat surfaces, which is different and visually appealing. Normally a liquor bottle is more of a rounded design, but the sharp corners here easily differentiates the bottle from others on the shelf and the shallow bottle depth means that there’s more surface area on the front and back to make the bottle stand out even more.
The labeling is a white logo and lettering with a transparent background letting the golden color of the whiskey shine through. They’ve made solid choices in the font and logo, which definitely evokes a French style without hitting you over the head with it. The whole package is capped with a wood and cork stopper.
The whiskey is a very light color, almost more gold than amber. It smells lighter as well, with none of the darker or richer notes that you would expect from an American bourbon.
The first impression is that this is damn close to a cognac in smell, which makes sense given that the barrels are manufactured from wood in the Limosin area of France — the same place that cognac barrels originate. It has a lot of the same smells associated with the whiskey, namely the sweet fruity notes and touches of oak, but instead of a syrupy sweet and thick liquid like the grape based cogniac this is slightly more reserved and toned down.
A cognac for people who don’t like cognac, perhaps.
The spirit itself is very smooth, and while not quite as light in viscosity as other French whiskeys, it isn’t a thick syrup either. The main thing I taste in this whiskey is the barrel itself — particularly the woody oak flavor coming through. There’s also some peat flavor, similar to single malt scotch whisky offerings, that’s light but appreciable.
There’s nothing offensive here and the spirit is smooth and delicious throughout the taste, but there isn’t a whole lot of “there” there.
I think the ice actually makes this better. Instead of just a vague fruityness, now there’s a distinct apple flavor that’s coming though the whiskey. The peat flavor is also significantly more pronounced with the added ice.
This actually reminds me a great deal of Christmas dinner. Oak logs in the fireplace, apple pie for dessert, and the combination of the two making for a delicious flavor.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
All I get here is the orange bitters.
The problem is that there’s nothing strong enough in the whiskey itself to stand up to that kind of overpowering flavor. The primary flavor we had to begin with (besides the oak) was some apple, which isn’t really something that can contrast the orange bitters favorably. And, lo and behold, it doesn’t work.
I want to point out that this isn’t bad, necessarily. This isn’t undrinkable or unpleasant. It isn’t even to the level of the Old Fashioned where it’s an unbalanced drink. This is just disappointing that none of the flavor of the whiskey itself makes an appearance once the ginger beer is added.
This is probably proof that the French whiskies need to be treated just like the Scotch variety. Sure if you want to add it to a whiskey version of a Bees’ Knees, it might work; but the tougher and bolder cocktail recipes will just bury the delicate flavor of these French whiskeys.
I like it. This is a good whiskey. I just wish that it had a better story and was a little more craft-y. It’s well priced to be a good novelty whiskey to accompany your French meals or celebrations, and about as useful for your everyday drinking pleasure as Johnny Walker Black.
Bastille 1789 Blended French Whiskey
Owner: Daucourt Distillery
Production: Angoulême, France
Classification: Blended whiskey
Grain bill: Wheat, malted barley, corn
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $25/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 3/5
Drink it neat. Or on ice. But that’s about it.