It is within the historic distillery of the GRALLET family (distillery created in 1860) that germinated the idea to produce some whisky in Lorraine.
The first whisky of Lorraine was born in the early 2000s from the alchemy between an original initiative and the passion of two men.
Here is the story of an idea imagined by Hubert Grallet, distiller and Christophe Dupic, cereal grower on their farm, in Rozelieures in Meurthe-et-Moselle. Both are knowledgeable amateurs of quality and aromatic whisky. They travel frequently in the Scottish cradle of this amber alcoholic drink.
The art of distillation was no secret for Hubert (who is famous for the Maison de la Mirabelle) when he suggested to Christophe, as a joke, the idea to create a whisky of Lorraine while they were harvesting barley.
Several years of research and development, investments, fermentation, distillation and ageing were necessary to reach the level of quality their whisky has now.
The groundwaters from which we draw are directly fed by the water of mountain stemming from sources from Vosges.
Near our domain is one of the two volcanoes of the region of Lorraine: the one from Essey-la-Côte, peaking at 415 m (100 m-level difference from the village of Essey-la-Côte). The volcano is extinct today but we still can find stones of basalt which sprang from the volcano about 27 million years ago.
Just like these two natural assets (the purity of water and the wealth of the earth), our whisky of Lorraine allies sweetness and character, for an alcohol of character but soft and round like the Vosges mountains.
View of Essey-la-Côte volcano from the distillery
Introduction : elements gathered on the Internet or in our personal library or personal knowledge …
The Chaldean alchemists and other peoples of Mesopotamia already knew about 2,000 years BC a primitive sort of distillation, which they used to prepare perfumes. Then in the 1st century AD, the Greek alchemists used it frequently but distilleries developed mostly with the increasing demand in liqueurs from the Late Empire. We attribute to Hypatie the invention of a method of distillation, whereas the first precise description of a distillery was made by Zosime de Panopolis in the 4th century.
Although the technique of distillation has been known since Ancient Egypt for the production of perfumes, it seems that the technology used before the 11th century did not allow to produce drinkable alcohol, since the cooling systems at the end of the still were not finalized, and did not allow to collect enough liquid.
The first productions of uisge beatha (eau-de-vie in Celtic language) seem to go back to the 15th century, in monasteries. The uisge beata was used as much for therapeutic purposes as for the direct consumption in the form of alcohol.
The first significant progress in the technology of distillation goes back to the 16th century, when the cooling system by air was replaced by a system which consists in making the result of the distillation circulate in a tube plunged into water. This tube was placed at first in the center of a tank containing water, and then obliquely in order to increase the length and thus the contact area with water. This tube took the shape of a serpentine in the mid-17th century.
Another improvement introduced at that time was the extension of the collar of the still and the modification of its shape to get closer to the current shape looking like an onion. The effect of this modification is that a largest part of evaporated liquids fall again into the still, which ensures a better elimination of impurities.
These two modifications resulted in a clear improvement of the quality of the produced alcohol and correspond to the debuts of the economic expansion of the Scotch whisky.
From the 12th century, the distillation of the eau-de-vie has spread gradually in Europe, particularly in Scotland and Ireland, where the stills would introduced by Christian missionaries (according to the legend, Saint Patrick himself, patron saint of the Irish people, introduced it in the 5th century, in 432). The practice and the know-how developed in monasteries. However, it was necessary to wait for the 11th century so that progress in the techniques of condensation allows to produce drinks. Whisky, then called uisge beatha had, at that time, an essentially therapeutic function and was used as much for ointment as for medicine.
In the 12th century, the English soldiers who invaded Ireland discovered the alcoholic drink which then seemed to enjoy a notable popularity with the local population. In 1608, the Bushmills distillery obtained the first official license of distillation.
The first mention of whisky in Scotland goes back to 1494. A note referring to the production of eau-de-vie in an Exchequer's official document roll specified "8 bolls of malt to Friar John Cor, by order of the King to make aqua vitae", testimony of an already well installed practice. We consider generally that the monks of Dal Riada shared their knowledge about distillation with the Scots when they came to evangelize Pictes of Caledonia.
In the 16th century, the development of water cooling systems allowed a great improvement which accelerated the economic development of the Scotch whisky. The dissolution of the English then Scottish monasteries led monks to mix with the secular population and to communicate their know-how. The resale of eau-de-vie in Scotland have become licit only for barbers and surgeons since 1505. It became at the same time a common activity in the farm, where any extra grain was distilled.
The distillation became legal in Scotland only with the Excise Act of 1823.
From then on, illegal production decreased inexorably. At the same time, the industrial production developed.
In the United States, President Thomas Jefferson abolished taxes on whisky in 1802. Numerous entrepreneurs then started producing. Baptist minister Elijah Craig was the first one to use oak barrels to transport his whisky. The system of filtration through a coat of coal was invented in 1825 by Alfred Eaton. This system is still used nowadays (by Daniel's jack for example). The American whisky containing a proportion of corn superior to 51 % took the name of bourbon.
Technical improvements were favorable the industrial production. In 1826, the system of continuous distillation of the grain alcohol, namely the still with column (patent or column still) was invented in Ireland. Paradoxically, it was used only in Scotland where it replaced the Charentais still (jar still) which was still used in the 19th century in Ireland.
In 1853, the first blend was created by Mr Usher from the Glenlivet distillery. He associated various whiskies of malt and whiskies of grain. The arrival of the revolutionized the whisky industry. Its more economical manufacturing, its less typified and reproducible taste led single malts to almost disappear for nearly a century and caused the decline of Irish and American productions. The Irish distilleries refused to practise blending, which led to the closure of more than two thirds of them (from 160 to 30 distilleries from 1850 till 1900). In 1909, after the judgment of a royal committee, the blend acquired the right to be marketed under the name of whisky.
At the beginning of the 20th century, 90 % of the production of whisky in Scotland was made under the form of blend. A few distilleries like Caol Ila, Bowmore, Macallan or Glen Grant still sold their single malt. It was the golden age of the Scottish distilleries.
In 1890, we counted more than 160 official distilleries in Scotland. But this euphoria was followed by a period of economic recession. The overproduction of alcohol caused the permanent or momentary closure of a large number of distilleries. One of the causes of this collapse was the Pattisons’ Crisis.
In the United States, the whisky industry began to be threatened with the creation of the first anti-alcohol leagues at the end of the 19th century. After a first reduction in the consumption of whisky during the American Civil War, the Prohibition, from 1920 to 1933, damaged durably the whisky industry in the United States. Bourbons have began to develop again only since the 1980s.
In Ireland, whiskey was damaged too in the 20th century. The arrival of the Scottish blends, then the civil war and the partition of Ireland in the 1920s upset the whisky market. The country lost its main sale area: the United Kingdom. Fortunately, the Irish Diaspora in North America allowed the sale of the production. After the Second World War, only 4 distilleries remained in service in Ireland (Bushmills, Cork Distillery, Jameson and Power). Later the three latter grouped their production site on a single site: Midleton. As a consequence, Ireland had only three active distilleries left at the beginning of the 21st century (Bushmills, Midleton and Cooley created in 1987).
The 1980s marked the beginning of a new phase in the history of whisky. A phase of revival opened with the succession of the single malt whisky. This whisky, almost forgotten since the end of the 19th century and which was marketed only by a very small number of distilleries, came back into fashion by following the example of Glenfiddich, which was he first one to make big advertising campaigns to promote his single malt. At the same time, in the United States, big whisky distillers like Jim Beam, Maker Mark or Buffalo Trace began improving the quality of their productions in order to be able to compete again with Scottish blends, which held the American market.
The arrival of French whiskies is more recent and most of the French distilleries have a 10-year experience today. Good whiskies come out from French wine storehouses with their specificities and a personality of their own.
The first stage consists in malting the barley; that is make grains of barley germinate then dry them. By the act of seeding, we thus transform the starch of the grain of barley into fermentable sugar. At the time of the drying, we can peat the malt.
2nd stage: fermentation by a brewing process of malt. We obtain a fermented must.
3rd stage: distillation of the must in 2 passages. We obtain a clear eau-de-vie
4th stage: ageing process in oak casks. Most of them are second-hand
Several historic or current observations led to the creation of the whisky of Lorraine G. ROZELIEURES: master a product that the French are the first ones to consume in volume and for which we have all the required elements to produce it.
1- The region is historically brewers' earth and the admixture is a key stage of the production of whisky (we counted in the last century dozens of brasserie in region)
2- The region of Lorraine produces quantities of barley of brasserie (20 % of the potential France) (France exports a part of its barleys brassicoles in the Scotland in particular)
3- The Lorraine is traditionally distillers' region (in particular of fruits such as the cherry plum) and it is the same devices which are used for the whisky.
4- The big forests western from Vosges supply the best merrains with oak to the coopers of Europe.
5- Rozelieures, by the closeness with the mountain from Vosge possess high-quality waters (Vittel, Contrex, …), mattering in the composition of the whisky.
The Maison de la Mirabelle has been the property of the GRALLET family for 150 years. One of the GRALLET family ancestors is Mr. EBY, who was one of Stanislas’ cupbearers and who came from Poland with him. An interesting oenological coincidence -- Stanislas had taken up residence in Lunéville, not far from Rozelieures (25 km).
The chateau of Lunéville cellars are exceptional by their size, which is a proof of the importance of gastronomy at the time. Cellars indeed served as places of storing of goods (among which wines and alcohols) and of preparation of the dishes.
In Stanislas Leszczynski's court.
In Lunéville, the “small Versailles of Lorraine” and permanent residence of Stanislas's court, life gets organized just like the court of Versailles.
As a notable gourmet, Stanislas was attentive to the quality of the meals served to the court. He consumed many poultry and game, adored raw vegetables and was crazy about melons. Pheasants came from his breeding of Vitrimont and the hens of his farms were purebred "sarnates". The fish, particularly "Karas" (sort of bream) came from its ponds. Stanislas enjoyed Polish dishes, which he appreciated a lot.
As for wine at the court of the Duke of Lorraine, Stanislas preferred certainly by nostalgia the tokay of Hungary which he reserved for his table.
Stanislas was greedy for desserts. He appreciated biscuits, candies, nougat and the famous Baba cooked by his unseparable chef and cook François Richard and by his successor Gilliers. The most famous cakes from this period are the madeleine and the baba.
He likes surprising his guests with extravagant "surtout", architectural composition in ceramic and metal endowed with diverse dishes coming from the floor by a cunning hydraulic system.
Stanislas hated lingering at table. Meals were regular like a clockwork and lasted only one hour. The musicians of the palace played during the meal and gave it strong rhythm with cymbals and trumpet blasts. The uninitiated visitors enjoyed the Friday meal, which was accompanied by string instruments.
There were barrels and barrels in large quantities, wines and spirits in the cellar (rum, cherry plum eau-de-vie, grain alcohols (maybe not so distant from our current whiskies).
The commercial development of eaux-de-vie really began in the 17th century (Cognac, Armagnac, chartreuse, Benedictine in France, Whisky in Great Britain, Vodka in Poland then in Russia). The eaux-de-vie made from fruits developed commercially later in the 18th then 19th century.
- Maison de la Mirabelle
- Web site: distilleries information.
- Hubert GRALLET and Christophe DUPIC
- Anne Muratori-Philip, Stanislas Leszczynski: adventurer, philosopher and sponsor of the Enlightenment. -Paris: Robert Laffont, 2005.
- Frédéric Maguin and Robert Florentin, In the footsteps of Stanislas Leszczynski. -Nancy: publishing Koidneuf, 2005.