The Classicist: Citadelle, the French Gin Made in a Cognac Distillery
Summer to us, even when it's late in arriving, is all about gin. Recently we got reacquainted with one of the best, Citadelle Gin from France, and discovered its fascinating story. Citadelle is inspired by a recipe created in the 18th century in the French seaport of Dunkirk. Originally, French distillers Carpeau and Stival took spices from ships returning from the Orient and Africa and distilled them in 12 traditional copper stills at the Citadelle Distillery, one of France's oldest registered genievre (ancient juniper distillate) distilleries. It might have been consigned to the history books had not Cognac Pierre Ferrand dug the recipe out of the archives and adapted it.
The process was ideal for Ferrand, which was determined to create a spirit with a great mouth-feel and the thirst-quenching taste of juniper berries combined with the complexity of a very fine spirit. It also solved the problem of what to do in the distillery's downtime; strict French AOC laws allow the distillation of cognac to occur only from November through March. The breathtaking estate of the Logis d'Angeac where Pierre Ferrand Cognac is made lies in the heart of France's famed Grande Champagne Cognac region and features classic copper stills, works of art in their own right. Citadelle now keeps them busy for the rest of the year.
Few gins are produced in pot stills, and Citadelle is the only gin distilled in a Cognac pot still with a naked flame. Distilling gin on an open flame requires a deft touch and far more attention than a column still or steam distillation which is otherwise used. It also means the gin is made in smaller batches, one cask at a time allowing the master distiller to precisely discard the "heads" and "tails" of the distillation, keeping only the precious, flavorful "heart". This costly distillation method imparts a texture only found in spirits distilled that way. The result is a carefully crafted gin, made from whole grain wheat, natural spring water and infused with 19 botanicals that when intermingled allow the complex flavors to create a subtle bouquet with aromas of juniper and citrus.
Gallery: Citadelle Gin
The special botanicals are as carefully selected today as they were in the 18th Century. They include coriander from Morocco; orange peel from Mexico; cardamom and nutmeg from India; licorice from China; cubeb pepper from Java; juniper, savory, violet and star anise from France; fennel from the Mediterranean; iris from Italy; cinnamon from Sri Lanka; almonds and lemon rind from Spain; cassia from Indochina; angelica from Germany; grains of paradise from West Africa; and cumin from Holland. Elegant, soft and smooth on the palate, with a long aftertaste that expresses its aromatic complexity – and its history – to the fullest, and bottled at 44% alcohol/volume, Citadelle achieves the perfect balance between intensity and finesse.
Last December Citadelle Gin Reserve (see the gallery) was introduced in the U.S. as the only gin in the world aged for six months in used oak casks at the Cognac Ferrand estate. Each cask used for aging is then discarded after bottling, making it one of the most expensive gins to produce. The unique aging process means that most of the esters have evaporated, giving it a "round vanilla aroma imparted from soft oak tannins," according to Cellar Master Fredric Gilbert. Only 2,400 bottles of Citadelle Gin Reserve were imported and it is available in select markets in the U.S.