Frenchman Thierry Guillon is successfully distilling malt whisky amid the vines of Montagne de Reims. Guillon says the Champagne region is a natural home for whisky:
“apart from growing vines, this area is a major barley producer. The Scots and the Japanese come to Reims and Troyes to buy their malt.”
A trained wine expert, but self-taught in whisky-making (Guillon has visited Scotland only once) keeps his three stills in a converted tractor shed behind a house on a wooded hill that was once his parents' country cottage. A small visitors' centre has been accommodated in the old wood shed and 700 oak casks of maturing whisky are in 12 second-hand ship containers.
The secret ingredient is fantastic spring water which a diviner found 35 years ago. The water is filtered by passing through beds of clay and chalk. The rock salts which remain are perfect for the Single Malts. The Champagne barley malt which is used is slightly smoked, imparting a subtle aroma to the finished Whiskies and the barrels used come from Champagne.
The distillery produces only individual malts and seeks to obtain original whiskies with products from the local area: barley rather then malt, spring water, yeasts and finally barrels of oaks coming from Champagne. These whiskies have an aroma of dug peat, with smoky undertones of wood and leather and flavours of plum and roast chestnuts.