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LIFE IN FRANCE

Calvados to Chartreuse: The ultimate booze map of France

France is well known for its food - but did you realise just how many different types of alcoholic drink the country produces? This may make you want to have an early apéro . . .

Calvados to Chartreuse: The ultimate booze map of France
Image: The Local

There are dozens of good maps of France (from the cheese map to the map that shows how many cheek kisses you should do) – but have you ever seen a good booze map?

We hadn’t either, so decided to put one together. We present: The ultimate booze map of France, featuring most famous French tipples (no doubt we might have missed a couple) and a few you may not have heard of, let alone tried.

Of course you can try most of these alcoholic drinks anywhere in France, but we’ve focused on the area of the country each beverage originated in.

Here’s the full map, followed by a closer look at each corner of the country. 

(The Local France encourages responsible drinking and would suggest not all of these are sampled during the same apéro)

And in case that is all a little overwhelming, let’s take it region by region.
 
Not only does each region of France have its local specialities, you will find that drinking habits vary quite drastically depending on where you are, from the beer and cider-living northern French to the pastis-swilling inhabitants of Marseille and all points in between.
 

North west and west

Chambord – A popular addition to sweeten Champagne, the raspberry and blackberry liqueur is said to have been created when Louis XIV visited the Chateau de Chambord in the Loire Valley in 1685. 

Lambig – Similar to Calvados, the apple brandy is also known in Brittany as “fine Bretagne”. The cider is distilled in an alembic, which is from where the name originated.

Amorik Whisky – The Armorik range of whisky offers single malts and blends, made in what one distillery says are the perfect conditions of Brittany: “Our whisky has found a coastal heathland environment perfect for ageing under the best possible conditions. The sea, wind and rain have forged its character that is second to none.”

Melmor – Similar to mead, this drink is a simple mix of water, honey, and yeast. If you like a drink with heritage, this one is for you – “The recipe has not changed since the Celts introduced chouchen to Brittany,” one distillery claims.

Breton cider – Breton cider needs no introduction. If you’re a real fan, take on the route de cidre – a tour of the region’s cider makers. Inhabitants of Brittany also have a fierce and long-running dispute with their neighbours in Normandy over whether cider should be drunk from a glass or a cup.

Pommeau and Calvados – Over in Normandy, enjoy apple-based drinks like Calvados apple brandy, or try it mixed with apple juice in Pommeau.

Poire d’olivet – The clear pear brandy from the town of Olivet near Orléans often comes with a whole pear in the bottle.

Benedictine – Here’s another Normandy speciality made with apples. The drink is said to have been created by the Benedictine monk Dom Bernado Vincelli in Fécamp Abbey in 1510. The “elixir” recipe was lost for 350 years and re-discovered by Alexander the Great, who named it Bénédictine.

 

North east 

Grey Goose vodka – The famous Grey Goose vodka is distilled in Picardy, close to the Belgian border. Although the drink was created by American Sidney Frank, it uses the soft wheat from the Picardy area and is fermented and distilled in the area before being sent to the Cognac region for bottling. The bottle shows the French flag, just to big-up the brand’s French connection.

Grand Marnier – One of France’s most successful alcoholic exports, the orange-flavoured liqueur Grand Marnier is made with a blend of Cognac and bitter oranges, coming from from Neauphle-le-Château near Versailles.

Pelforth – This beer, which comes in blonde and brown varieties, originated from Lille and now belongs to the Heineken group.

Champagne – No surprises for guessing where Champagne comes from. All “official” Champagne still comes from the Champagne region of France. The wine collectives of this area employ a team of eagle-eyed lawyers to track down and threaten (with a lawsuit) anyone attempting to market a product with ‘Champagne’ in its name if it does not contain some product from the area. 

Ratafia – Ratafia refers to fortified wines or liqueurs or citrus-peel flavoured liquers. The ratafia from Champagne is the most famous and is of the fortified wine category. It’s made with the same grapes as for champagne, but they’re allowed to ripen to maturity, dried, and re-hydrated. 

Mirabelle liquer – Yellow “mirabelle” plums are a delicacy of the Lorraine region and appear in many local recipes. The plum liqueur is sweet and slightly honey-flavoured.

Burgundy wine – The mineral taste of Burgundy wines comes from the area’s limestone soils, formed at a time when Burgundy was part of a tropical sea. The two main Burgundy grapes are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Obviously there are too many Burgundy wines to get on this map.

Fischer beer – Ficher beer, in its distinctive corked bottle, is native to Alsace. The Fischer brewery was founded in Strasbourg and moved to Schiltigheim. The north-east of France is the country’s beer heartland, although good craft ales are becoming increasingly popular through the rest of the country too.

READ ALSO How France became a nation of beer lovers

Kronenbourg – Another Alsacian beer, Kronenbourg was created in Strasbourg and its 1664 variety is now the most sold French beer in the world. 

Pernod – This aniseed  liqueur, created around 80 years ago, is one of the hallmarks of French drinking. When served with ice and water the clear liquid turns a cloudy cream colour – and is perfect for a summer’s day. Although it’s technically not a Pastis.

Vieux Pontarlier – The French absinthe from Pontarlier, close to the Swiss border, is still made using the original recipe. It’s made from local wormwood, green anise seeds and fennel seed along with a secret blend of herbs and spices. Fun fact: none of the ingredients in absinthe are hallucinogens and never were.

READ ALSO How the ‘absinthe murders’ lead to a global ban

South east
 
Suze – Often referred to as both a French and Swiss invention, the liqueur is flavoured with the root of genetian plants and is typically enjoyed as an aperitif.

Crème de cassis – The sweet blackcurrant liqueur is a speciality of Burgundy and Dijon in particular. It’s normally mixed with white wine to make a Kir. If you mix it with sparkling white wine, that is a kir royale – both drinks are often enjoyed as an apéro.

Chartreuse – Chartreuse boasts that its herbal liqueur is the only one in the world with a completely natural green colour. 

The history of Chartreuse is a bit of a mystery, in 1605 a Chartreuse monastery apparently received a gift of an ancient manuscript containing the recipe for the drink. It was sent to the order’s main monastery near Grenoble where it was deciphered, recreated and sold as a medicine called “The Elixir of Long Life”. 

Of course it’s possible that this story was dreamed up by a 17th century monk who had a gift for marketing.

Rinquinquin – The Provencal drink is made with peaches, autumnal peach tree leaves, cane sugar and Lubéron white wine. You can drink it as an aperitif with tonic, neat or with ice cubes.

Provence Rosé wine – Many types of wine are made in Provence, but the region is particularly well known for its rosés and is the only wine region to focus on rosé, there’s even a rosé research institute. All of which makes Provence the perfect place to visit in the spring and summer, which is rosé season.
 
Ricard and Pastis – Ricard and Pastis 51 are the leading brands of the Marseille-born star anise and licorice flavoured liqueurs.
 
Traditionally pastis should be enjoyed one part to five parts water, but as part of a recent re-branding effort to shake off the fusty image of pastis you can ask for a more diluted version with eight parts water called “piscine”. 
 
Orange Columbo – The Provencal drink is made with Lubéron rosé, sweet and bitter oranges, bitter bark infusions, curaçao and other flavours.
 
Frontignan premier muscat – Muscat wines are produced in various regions of France, but Frontignan on the south coast has been famous for its varieties for centuries and it was the first naturally sweet wine label to be officially recognised. 
 
Salers – The liqueur from Auvergne is made from the root of the gentian plant, sweetened with white wine and botanical flavourings. 
 
Banyuls – The natural sweet wines known as Banyuls come from four towns on the Côte Vermeille close to the Spanish border: Banyuls itself, Cerbère, Collioure and Port-Vendres. They are usually drunk as an apéro.
 

South west

Cointreau – The Cointreau brothers found success blending sweet and bitter orange peels and pure alcohol from sugar beets, with around 13 million of the iconic bottles sold a year. As for how they make it? It’s still a family secret.
 
Guignolet Kirsch – The deep red aperitif from Anjou is made by marinating cherries in alcohol with kirsch, a clear cherry liqueur. It owes its name to the guigne cherry, one of the varieties used in preparation. 

The drink was created by brothers Adolphe and Edouard Cointreau, who then went on to make the eponymous orange liqueur. 

Cognac – The brandy, named after the town where it originates in Charente, is one of France’s biggest drink exports.

When in town you can visit Hennessy’s headquarters for tours and – of course – tasting.

Traditionally an after-dinner drink, the industry managed to successfully revamp its rather stuffy image and now brands like Hennessay and Courvoisier are hugely popular among younger people in the USA, with Courvoisier even featuring in the title of a Busta Rhymes track.

Pineau des Charentes – Often referred to as Cognac’s little brother Pineau is a fortified wine, hugely popular in the west and works great as an aperitif. It’s available in red or white. 

Bordeaux wine – Along with Burgundy this is France’s other key wine producing region. Bordeaux wines are made up of a blend of grape varieties rather than just one per wine.

Bordeaux varieties include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. 

 

Lillet – Raymond and Paul Lillet concocted the Lillet aperitif in Podensac, near Bordeaux. Called Kina Lillet until the 1970s it’s a blend of wine and fruit syrups and comes in red, white and rosé. It’s particularly good as a summer drink with lots of ice and a slice of cucumber and is the preferred drink of serial killer Hannibal Lecter in Thomas Harris’ books. 

Marie Brizard anisette – The Marie Brizard brand now produces a variety of different drinks, but the original anisette liqueur from Bordeaux is the iconic label.

The recipe for the green anise flavoured drink is a closely guarded secret and remains unchanged since Marie Brizard herself finalised the recipe in 1763.

Floc de Gascogne – A light and fruity aperitif from Gascony, Floc de Gascony is made with grape juices and Armagnac. You can find it in white or red varieties. 
 
Desperados – Now brewed in Alsace, the Tequila-flavoured beer is said to have been first created in France’s Basque county in 1995. 

Paxtaran – This drink from the Basque country is mainly associated with Spain, but can be found in the French part of the Pays Basque too.

Armagnac – Produced in the Armagnac region of Gascony the white wine grape-based brandy is similar to the more well known Cognac.
 
To detect all the flavours in Armagnac, it’s sometimes advised to dab a drop on the back of your hand, wait for it to dry and sniff for notes of dried fruits, butterscotch and licorice. 

Byrrh – The French vermouth was created in Thuir, close to the Spanish border. Based on red wine, it’s a mild apéritif flavoured with quinine, coffee and bitter orange among other flavours. 

Avèze – Produced in Riom-ès-Montagnes in Cantal, Auvergne, the liqueur is flavoured with wild yellow gentian plant from the area.

Did we miss out your favourite tipple? Share it with us at [email protected] Santé!

 

Member comments

  1. How could you omit Noilly Prat from your booze map. Made in Marseillan near Sete on the Med. What an oversight. Have you ever tried the orange Noilly Prat.

  2. My word, you left out Picon! Its from Marseille, but here in Burgundy and the north we drink it with beer in the summer. Super delicious!

  3. I for one find the stuff too high octane, but I don’t see any mention of the grappa of France — Marc — which I believe is produced in the Southwest?

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DISCOVER FRANCE

11 ways to make the most of autumn in France

From festivals to tasting new wines, mushroom-foraging to learning a new skill - here are some of the ways to make the most of the fall in France.

11 ways to make the most of autumn in France

Make a rentrée resolution – September in France marks la rentrée, when kids begin the new school years and adults return to work after the holidays.

But it’s also a bit of a cultural moment of restarting and re-setting, probably a bigger deal than New Year in France. And in the spirit of starting afresh plenty of people make resolutions to learn a new skill and get fit – which means there are lots of new classes starting at this time of year.

Help with la vendange – late summer and early autumn is when vineyards across France harvest their grapes and begin to make new wines. Most vineyards are huge, professional organisations which increasingly rely on migrant labour for the harvest period, but there are still plenty of small, family-operated vineyards that are looking for help with the grape-picking.

It’s pretty hard work though, so maybe read this before signing up. 

Enjoy the wine sales – if you would rather drink wine than get involved in making it, autumn is also a good time for you, as there are plenty of wine sales at this time of year. Most supermarkets, wine caves and wine-selling websites run an early autumn sale called the Foire aux vins – this is essentially a stock-clearing exercise so it’s a great opportunity to get a bargain on a few special bottles.

There’s also Beaujolais Nouveau Day, held in November, to celebrate the first primeurs (wines that only mature for a short time) of the season.

Go to Cordes-sur-Ciel – this beautiful medieval hilltop town in south west France is well worth a visit at any time of the year, but in autumn a particular phenomenon happens, which is how the town got its name.

The town is perched on top of a steep hill and on autumn mornings, when mist and fog covers the valley floor, it appears to be floating above the clouds – which is why it is named Cordes ‘on the sky’.

If you don’t see the fog, there’s also a chocolate museum where they are generous with free samples.

Go mushroom-foraging – if you’re in French woodland at this time of year you will see lots of families toting baskets and slightly furtive expressions. The baskets are for mushrooms and the furtive expressions are not because mushroom-picking is illegal – unless you are on private land – it’s because many families have a ‘secret’ spot where the best mushrooms grow, that they like to keep to themselves.

Be safe though, if you’re at all unsure about what type of mushrooms you have picked, French pharmacies offer a mushroom-checking service.

READ ALSO Everything you need to know for safe and enjoyable mushroom foraging in France

View the changing leaves – autumn leaves are a beautiful sight, and France has plenty of stunning locations in which to really appreciate them, from the volcanic landscape of the Auvergne to the Alps or the natural park of Morvan, in eastern France

Carve pumpkins – If you are looking to recreate an American-style Halloween by carving some pumpkins, you are in luck. Pumpkins (or citrouille in French) are grown across central France. For carving and cooking purposes, you should be able to find them at your local grocery store during the fall.

Though, if you are looking for a more authentic pumpkin-patch experience, you can search “cueillette citrouille” or “champ de citrouille” with your city to see what is nearby. For those living in Paris, “les fermes de gally” – which is about an hour outside the city on public transport – host a pumpkin picking event every year.

Go on a bike ride – hiking or cycling is the perfect way to appreciate the French landscape and now that the summer is over there is less risk of dehydration or sunburn.

France has a great variety of both on-road and off-road cycle routes, including the voie verte network which covers large parts of the country – find out more HERE.

Take a train ride – if you’re looking for a less strenuous way to appreciate the view, then why not enjoy it through the window of a train? Now that the peak season of summer is over, trains are a lot less crowded and make for a relaxing and scenic travel experience.

VIDEO 12 of the most beautiful train journeys in France

Eat hot melted cheese – as the temperatures fall out come the classic winter dishes – hearty soups, warming stews and hot desserts. But the best of these are those made with melted cheese – primarily fondue or raclette – which traditionally should only be eaten in the cooler months of the year

Festivals – France has a busy year-round calendar of festivals and autumn is no exception, with events celebrating music, film, chocolate, spicy peppers and staying up all night, to name but a few.

Fall festivals: What’s on around France in autumn 2022

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