If you’re a fan of gin, then I steer you in the direction of The World Atlas of Gin.
This detailed compendium from drink aficionados Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley will allow you to explore the world of gin from the comfort of your armchair.
If you are swayed in one direction, then you can pursue your destination with a swig of choice.
Their comprehensive gin journey takes you around the globe, from from the flats of Mexico to the humid wilds of Malaysia.
Landing the pin in France, one of the duo’s top recommendations is Citadelle Gin.
Joel and Neil reveal how the gin brand was conceived in June 1996 in the ‘most French fashion: over lunch on a sunny terrace’ by the charismatic spirits producer, Alexandre Gabriel.
The Frenchman was already producing Pierre Ferrand cognac and spent five years campaigning for permission to use his copper pot stills for gin production in the months when they were not in use.
Finally, the board at the appellation d’origins controlee (AOC) – which is in place to ensure wines and other goods maintain their quality and integrity – relented and Citadelle Gin was born.
Alexandre obtained permission to distil from April to October.
In a bid to learn more about the label, I ventured with Joel and Neil to Cognac, France, to the dreamy Citadelle Gin and Pierre Ferrand HQ, Chateau de Bonbonnet.
This historic home nestled in the heart of the countryside with vines rolling as far as the eye can see, is where all of the mixology magic happens.
Alexandre appears to be the Willy Wonka of the spirits world.
On meeting him at the Chateau, I was immediately taken by his zany enthusiasm.
It is clear he loves what he does. It is also clear that his operation is very much a family business and his wife Debbie, originally from New York, has been by his side along the way.
Their son Charles is now set to play a big role in the firm after finishing up business school in America.
We have to encourage Alexandre to head out with his family for a special dinner because without this encouragement, he’d be talking about his passion for gin all night. He can’t stop.
We reunite with him the next day, for a comprehensive tour of the distillery.
We even drive up a track and hop out for a walk to see some of the wild juniper bushes used for the Citadelle Gin production.
Alexandre is very much into drinks history and he based his gin recipe on one from the 18th century developed by a distillery in Dunkirk in 1771, which was housed in the Citadelle within the port town, and later authorised by Louis XVI to produce for the crown.
Along with juniper, this traditional style of gin uses 18 other botanicals including coriander, cardamon, Angelica, cumin, nutmeg, almonds, grains of paradise, liquorice, cubeb, savoury, cinnamon, star anise, blackcurrant, orris root, violet, fennel, orange zest and lemon.
Taking gin to whole new level, Alexandre also makes a barrel-aged blend called the Citadelle Reserve.
This adds yuzu, gene and bleuet to the 19 standard botanicals, with the blend then rested in five different types of wood barrels.
Alexandre has been experimenting with how the woods enhance the gin in different ways.
On tasting tipples pulled out of the acacia, mulberry, cherry, chestnut and French oak casks, the difference is startling. Each strain is a different hue, from a honey colour to pale straw.
The chestnut has a delicious sweetness, while the cherry has a high floral note and my lips feel like they’re on fire.
After the ageing the gin, the strains are blended together in a Willy Wonka-esque contraption: a giant egg-shaped barrel. The shape of the cask triggers convection and the liquids naturally blend.
For an even more unusual flavour, I encourage you to try Alexandre’s other star product, his No Mistake Old Tom Gin.
To make this, Demerara sugar is toasted in copper cauldrons to the first stage of caramelisation, then lightly thinned and mixed with the spirit before being aged for three to four months in casks.
We all agreed this would work well in an Old Fashioned or to snazz up a Mai Tai.
There also some other twists up Alexandre’s sleeve, including the yet-to-be-released smokey gin called Season of the Witch.
We found it stocked at one spot we went to in Cognac, the deliciously decadent 1838 bar at the Hotel Chais Monnet.
It worked well in a classic dry martini, with the smoked flavours left to sing.
A trip to the Citadelle Gin HQ definitely left a good taste.
Alexandre wants the business to be 100% self sufficient in the near future, with juniper berries grown on the site.
There will also be facilities in place for guests to stay at the distillery with an area dedicated to the gin production.
It’s inspiring how Alexandre has turned his vision into reality and is making a range of very fine products with it.
‘People thought I was a renegade in Cognac when I turned my attention to gin,’ Alexandre muses with a slight smile.
I think he’s having the last laugh now.
Santé to that!
To learn more about Citadelle Gin visit citadellegin.com