Côtes-d’Armor Department, Pleubian, North Brittany
France might not be the first place you’d think of when looking for a delicious malty dram, but this small, Breton-based distillery uses traditional distilling and aging techniques born of celtic heritage and produces whiskies inspired by its rugged coastal location.
The distillery has been built in a bunch of old farm buildings that sit looking out over the stretch of Pleubian coastline known as the ‘Sauvage Peninsula’. It’s an apt name – here the shoreline and surf is flecked with sprawling, splintered rocky outcrops. Not the sort of place you’d want to float around on an inflatable unicorn nor prance around in the sea, sans flip flop.
What they offer
The Celtic Distillery currently produces three core whiskies. Glann Ar Mor (meaning the edge of the sea in Breton) and Kornog (not to be confused with the folk band of the same name ) and are both single malts and are produced on site using open flame stills sporting serpentine condensers and finished in Oregon pine fermenters.
Gwalarn (meaning north west wind in Breton) is a blended whisky made from three single malts – Kornog, a scottish malt (the origins of which they prefer to keep secret) and a german malt (the name of which was also kept schtumn).
Cellaring takes place just down the road at their visitor centre/storage facility. Here, the single malts are matured in bourbon barrels, caressed by the salty air that swirls around the large, airy warehouse. Front of house is a small museum and a gift shop selling a stack of whisky and Breton related knick-knackery.
Worth a visit?
It’s a bit of a schlep from Blighty but northern Brittany is mighty pretty. Kind of like Cornwall, but with better food and less traffic. That said, in summer you can expect to encounter a fair bit of hot voiture action around its narrow country lanes. This part of the French coastline is a popular destination for Parisiens keen to escape the gritty heat of the city.
Get the Eurostar from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord, then hop on a TVG down to Guingamp from where you’ll need to grab a bus or taxi.
Where should I stay?
We holed up in Paimpol, a bustling, cobbled coastal town a mere 30 minutes drive from the distillery. Breton shirts are, of course, compulsory around these parts so dress appropriately. If you can drag yourself away from one of the town’s fine eateries (and drinkeries) there’s a nice walk down the coastal path to the right hand- side of the harbour which leads to an old WWII bunker on the headland that houses rare bats. Views from here are marvellous; look down into the tree-lined estuary below and you’ll spy Great Egrets and Oystercatchers mooching on the shoreline. Or you could just stare out to see all dewy eyed and melancholic – ideally with a Breton dram in hand.
For rustic fishy fodder (and for a glass of splendid local cider) swing over to L’islandais Restaurant.
For trad Breton nosh sans le quayside, dine at Chez Tonton Guy.
For fancy-pants posh, (a ‘cook-your-own-scallops-on-a-hot-stone’ kind of posh) mosey on down to the Restaurant de la Marne.
What should I take?
Visit in winter and you’ll experience some particularly parky winds that whip across this stretch of the coastline, so pack your parka and wooly hat. Northern Brittany is also quite rural so you might find that phrasebook or translation app will come in handy. Especially if – like us – you dicked around in French lessons at school and only have a rudimentary, child-like grasp of the French language*.
Have a taster…
Glann Ar Mor
70cl / 46%
Sea-kissed, sweet malts swirl with a hint of toffee.
70cl / 46%
A peaty, peppered treat with ginger notes and a sweet finish.
70cl / 40%
Fruity and rounded with a touch of peated malt.
*Here’s a few useful phrases to get you started:
Nous nous excusons sans réserve pour le Brexit
We apologize unreservedly for Brexit
Ce poisson a-t-il été capturé en vertu d’une licence officielle délivrée dans le cadre de l’accord de commerce et de coopération ?
Has this fish been caught under an official license as issued through the Trade and Cooperation Agreement?
Mon ami a eu un malheureux accident dans son pantalon.
My friend has had an unfortunate accident in his trousers.