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Hautes Glaces Makes Terroir-Driven French Whisky That’s Better For The Planet, And It Tastes Better Too

Hautes Glace French Whisky

Frederic Revol, Founder & CEO of French whisky makers Hautes Glaces, tells us about the agro-ecological practices that go into making some of France’s best whiskies that actually impart the flavors of the land they come from.

“I can talk about it for hours,” says Frederic Revol, Founder & CEO of Hautes Glaces when I ask about his brand’s organic and regenerative agriculture methods. At its heart, Hautes Glaces makes sustainable, terroir-driven French whiskies. From soil to bottle, it controls every stage of the supply chain allowing “us to (re)connect the taste of our whisky to its provenance,” he explains.

Native yeasts and alternative agricultural methods that foster soil fertility, prevent disease and enhance agro-ecosystem health are just part of the process, and it’s all geared to making whiskies where “the plot of land where the grain has been harvested has an impact on the flavour.”

We sat down with Revol to learn more about Hautes Glaces, the sustainable methods their spirits making process, and how they’re pushing French whisky into another level.

Hautes Glace French Whisky Frederic Revol Founder & CEO

Spirited: The world of French whisky has taken off over the last decade. How does French whisky separate itself from Scotch, Bourbon, Irish, or Japanese whiskies?

Frederic Revol: For the last 10 years, the momentum around French Whisky has clearly accelerated with numerous and diverse new distillery projects emerging all over the country. Currently, there are more than 100 French whisky distilleries in France (83 of them selling whisky in 2023), which is very enthusiastic.

As a very young category still, we can say that our shared long-lasting legacy of the French savoir-faire and expertise when it comes to spirits production is the glue that brings us together and sets us apart from the other whisky nations. At every single stage of the whisky making, from agriculture production, to malting, brewing, distillation and maturation, I believe France has a well-renowned and long-lasting position and savoir-faire that allow the French whisky makers to leverage some true quality and expertise.

Sp: You have end-to-end control of the supply chain, from self-produced seeds and yeasts to local cereals from organic, regenerative and collective farming to water recycling; renewable, local and circular energy; and eco-designed bottles made from wild glass. What does controlling the entire supply chain allow you to do that other brands can’t?

FR: Controlling every single stage of our supply chain allows us to pay very precise attention to every stage of the process, and therefore to bring to light to every single detail through the process that we believe has an impact to the flavour profile of our whisky. In addition, this allows us to (re)connect the taste of our whisky to its provenance, the grain subtlety, richness and depth.

It also allows us to challenge each stage of the process in view of each other, and therefore explore new territories and taste the many facets of our process. For example, this is how we can bring to life our “whisky parcellaire” and claim that the plot of land where the grain has been harvested has an impact on the flavour. Our Epistémè collection is a great testimony of this end-to-end approach. (see Q8)

Sp: Can you tell me a bit about your organic and regenerative agriculture methods?

FR: I can talk about it for hours!

In a nutshell, the key principles of organic and regenerative agriculture methods are to take out any synthetic inputs all the way through our whisky process. 

At the heart of our agricultural vision, we use alternative agricultural methods that fosters soil fertility, prevents disease and enhances agro-ecosystem health. Long crop rotation, hedges, grasslands, green manure crops, …  are few examples of agro-ecological practices that we implement to promote biodiversity, and biological cycles such as water, nitrogen, and carbon. 

To put these methods into practice, we get our grains supplied by 19 farmers who are all located close to the farm-distillery and are all certified Organic Farms. They are also all members of the “Graines des Cimes” association. Based on a shared vision of agroecology, “Graines des Cimes” is developing a close-knit network of independent, mutually supporting farms. Together, members are building a platform of shared knowledge and are forging technical and human connections to create a virtuous ecosystem, which ensures that farms in the Trièves region have greater resilience and a certain degree of autonomy.  Together, each year this small community supplies Hautes Glaces with the yields from different varieties, soils and exposures from around 50 plots spanning 140 to 180 hectares. A myriad of grains, and all hero ingredients to be celebrated.

Sp: Why is it so important to be sustainable in today’s spirits and whiskey market and how do you make sure Hautes Glaces is and remains sustainable?

FR: The fight for flavour and the fight for the environment are two sides of the same coin – this is what it takes to create inspiring spirits that are both enjoyable to drink and enjoyable to produce.

Sustainability is an on-going source of inspiration for improvement and innovation. We have constantly evolved since Hautes Glaces creation. It’s the nature of what we do – engaging with the natural world means we must continually adapt to it. That is its very essence – by charting new courses, being committed to deepening and developing exceptional expertise, Hautes Glaces’ ambitious vision requires unwavering commitment, constant questioning, soul-searching and ongoing improvement.

And I believe sustainability is not only important to the world of spirits. It is important to our entire planet, for today and tomorrow’s generation. A similar approach could possibly apply to many fields of expertise.

Hautes Glace French Whisky

Sp: Your bottles are beautiful and unique, where do you get your bottles made and what made you want to step away from more traditional bottle shapes?

FR: Previously, we used non-recycled extra flint glass, with a high carbon footprint. This was the only way to respect certain traditional whisky aesthetic codes (colourless, shiny, thick glass) when we started 15 years ago. Our research led us to do away with this unnecessary constraint and replace the bottle.

We have discovered a solution that is even more environmentally friendly than recycled glass, because it remedies an industrial waste too and is 96% recycled. Additionally, our bottle tops are made from spent grain (the residue from brewing cereals) so as not to consume new resources.

This bottle change and sustainable innovation choices led to a reduction of the bottle’s carbon footprint by more than 38% for the same quantity of whisky sold, compared with the old model. The good news is that the process in no way limits creativity. For example, an exact replica of the Obiou Mountain range, as seen from the distillery, has been moulded into the base of the bottle!

Sp: Most whiskey brands don’t use their own native yeasts. How do they help make Hautes Glaces’ unique whiskies?

FR: The yeasts used in fermentation come from the same source as the grains: they are first collected in the fields. Most whisky on the market uses yeasts marketed by the industry, which are very often GMO-derived and designed to produce more alcohol. We prefer to grow our own native yeasts, as their influence is decisive for the quality of our whisky. Over the last five years, this has led us to gather yeasts from our fields, then multiply them in the laboratory and test their physiology and their influence on our liquids.

Today, we are autonomous and keep our yeasts in a growing library that offers us a host of possibilities. Each yeast transforms its environment and expresses its terroir differently. They create their own aromatic profiles, textures and bitterness. In particular, these mountain yeasts allow us to work at lower temperatures, for longer fermentations. A process inspired by the world of wine.

Sp: Your Vulson rye eau-de-vie seems like such a unique product. How is it emblematic of “our high country ; but also of the world of spirit”? And what exactly do you mean by that?

FR: We use an old variety of rye that is highly reputed in our mountain regions for its baking and aromatic qualities. A landrace that is passed from farm-to-farm and produces the great bread of the mountain farmers. To get the very best out of it, we have developed mashing, fermentation and distillation techniques adapted to this variety: time, temperature and cutting points are adjusted at each stage.

But it’s also time that does its work. Vulson is cellared eaux-de-vie. It is the result of a blend of eaux-de-vie, some of which were distilled 8 years ago and now rest alongside our whisky casks. This is not ‘ageing’ – a term reserved for maturing in wood – but ‘resting’, because we use neutral containers (stainless steel vats, amphora) that are inert: the eaux-de-vie breathe and evolve with the seasons. It’s a well-deserved “rest” that’s necessary for the balance of flavours to blossom. Pretty much the same approach in other spirits such as shoshu, tequila, mezcal, and other fruits eaux-de-vie. 

Hautes Glace French Whisky

Sp: Tell me about your Exploratory Collection. What are they, how are they unique, and where are you looking to take them?

FR: Introducing our exploratory collection Epistémè, unique editions to taste the many facets of the Hautes Glaces terroir. These limited editions invite you to discover the richness and complexity of the know-how involved from field to bottle. Whisky produced on a parcel-by-parcel basis, the influence of grain, yeast, cask or cellar, new cereals or seasonality… Epistémè offers an ever-changing and never-ending journey of taste.

To help you find your way through this aromatic infinity, the editions of the Epistémè collection feature a code name to help identify the grain (First letter of the code), vintage (Followed by th, type of exploration and year of bottling. The different “expressions” are distinguished by a geometric shape added to the exploration codename:

For example, we launched in the UK Espitémè R18P23. 

R18P23 is an invitation to explore the influence of parcels and microclimatic effects on a 100% malted rye whisky. The 2 expressions of R18P23 are almost twins: they are both Single Rye produced from two separate batches of rye processed using identical production techniques. Each of the 2 batches was malted, mashed, fermented, and distilled during the summer of 2019 using similar recipes and under similar conditions.  Each of the two batches was harvested at maturity in August 2018 and comes from the same variety of rye. The 2 batches of eaux-de-vie differ only in their micro-provenance: the plot where the rye was grown. And we invite you to explore and taste the difference !

Sp: Terroir has become such an important component of the whiskey world today. How does Hautes Glaces explore the concept? And what makes your investigation unique from other brands looking to do similar things?

FR: It’s the connection to the land that shapes our whisky. Making the grain and its environment central to our production choices and processes, placing them at the heart of the flavour. By exploring the concept of terroir in the world of whisky and questioning its relationship with the natural environment, we produce whisky that is imbued with the taste and vibrancy of the place in which they are created – an incredibly inspiring mountain region! 

At Hautes Glaces we believe that – just like with Grands Crus wine – great whisky vintages do exist, and that the grain variety, vintage or plot of land are all factors that contribute to making unique whiskies of exceptional quality. 

Sp: How would you describe the terroir of Hautes Glaces whiskies in 5 words? How about in one paragraph?

In 5 words, I cannot!

FR: By leveraging local expertise and overcoming the challenges of Alpine conditions, we imbue our whiskies with a unique identity, whose distinct aromatic characteristics reflect the Terroir of the French Alps. Our terroir tastes naturality, elderness, freshness, straightness, crystallinity, generosity and complexity. 

Hautes Glaces whiskies are available in France, the UK, and a variety of other locations. They can be shipped to the United States via websites like Cask Cartel.

For more information, head over to the brand’s official website.