Image Bellevoye, Le whisky version française
A drink with...

Bellevoye, Whisky French style

It’s a first: whisky made in France for the international market. Dreamed up by Jean Moueix, the heir to a major Bordeaux wine group, and Alexandre Sirech, who has headed up a series of famous spirits brands and is now involved in the production of Saint-Estèphe and Pomerol vintages, the whisky they have created - a ventealapropriete best-seller - has already reached cruising speed. We look back on a Made-in-France epic crafted by this pair of cherubs.
Text Jean Dusaussoy  Photographs Baudouin  Icone temps de lectureEstimated reading time 7 min

Would you say that Les Bienheureux - the name of your company, which produces and markets Bellevoye whisky - is essentially a story of friendship?

Jean Moueix : Well, we met about ten years ago in Cuba, where Alexandre was living at the time. I won’t go into detail about the circumstances, which must remain something of a guilty secret, but we hit it off immediately. We seemed to agree on the same shared values, the same inclinations and similar tastes. We were friends before we became business partners. It had to be that way. Then, as we talked about France, we realised how much we love our country... and how much we love a drink. And we thought it a pity that there was no such thing as a French whisky.

But other whiskies are distilled in France aren’t they?

Alexandre Sirech : Yes, that's true, but they're very local whiskies. They also have very distinctive features. In Alsace, producers use Holstein stills, which produce very fruity and refined spirits. In the Nord region, the column still used there produces light, easy-drinking spirits. And in Charente, the onion-shaped pot still produces powerful, full-bodied spirits. Having three different cultures of distillation in regions so geographically close to each other is unique in the world. It’s also an excellent illustration of the cultural nuances of France.

Jean Moueix : Being French is having a very open attitude to the world and feeding on its rich diversity. But it’s an ancestral expertise that we’re now trying to promote and demonstrate in the form of Bellevoye. Before moving to the wine trade, Alexandre began his career in spirits. I did a lot of little things before I switched to wine as well. But we both had the same perspective, and the same vision of what we wanted to create, especially in brand terms. And that’s what led us to the world of spirits, where branding is much more prevalent and stronger than in the world of wine.

Bellevoye is a blend of three French whiskies from the Charente, Alsace and Nord regions

Image - Bellevoye, Le whisky version française

Tell us the story behind the two names: Bellevoye and Les Bienheureux.

Alexandre Sirech : In the Lorrain dialect, Bellevoye means ‘the beautiful way’ We wanted a name that matched our ethos. We see life as a gift from our parents. To honour that gift, we must chart our own course through life, and do our best to make it as beautiful as possible. That's our philosophy of life. And for historical reasons, I think it’s more interesting to have a name rooted in the region of Lorraine and its traditions. In the 13th century, the descendant of King Lothair who then ruled Upper Lotharingia - later to be known as the Duchy of Lorraine - held court in Nancy, and drank a distilled spirit made from locally-grown malted barley. So, you see there was already whisky here long before the Anglo-Saxons monopolised the word, which is a Gaelic corruption of ‘eaux-de-vie’!

Jean Moueix : But Les Bienheureux (The Cherubs) was anything but innocent. Before we knew each other and decided to going to business together, Alexandre and I both had jobs. We were very happy back then, and now... we’re very unhappy (laughs). No, of course not, but neither of us needed to be partners. We did it for one reason only: to create beautiful things that we can be proud of, and that make people around us happy. We came across the name one night in a restaurant. It was late and the lady proprietor politely suggested that it was time we left. We replied that we wouldn’t leave until we'd found our name. She was rather annoyed by that, so we asked her what we reminded her of, and she answered immediately: two cherubs.

Image Cave - Bellevoye, Le whisky version française

Everyone knows the word whisky. But can you tell us precisely which ingredients are used to make it, and explain the process?

Alexandre Sirech : Whisky is made from grain, whereas Cognac, Armagnac and Calvados, for example, are all fruit-based. You can use several different types of grain, including barley, rye and corn, but the best whiskies are made solely from malted barley. Malted barley is barley that has been soaked after harvesting and kept slightly moist. That encourages the grain to germinate. And it’s only when the germ emerges that barley will produce sugar. The grain is then dried so that it can be milled. The resulting dry material is then mixed with water to extract its flavours and sugars. Here again, France has an advantage - or at least a significant difference - over its neighbours: our warmer climate gives us two barley crops every year. This seasonality is what gives French whisky its broad palette of flavours and added complexity.

Bellevoye has been available to Air France Business and First Class passengers since October 2018

"If we could have achieved what we set out to with just one spirit, it would have been a single malt"

Why did you decide to make a triple malt?

Alexandre Sirech : If we could have achieved what we set out to with just one spirit, it would have been a single malt. We make a triple malt because we’ve noticed that, in the same way as Bordeaux wines blend different grape varieties, when the best spirits from the Nord, Alsace and Charente regions come together, the end result is significantly superior to the sum of its parts. It's every blender's dream! All the more so, since we always wanted to create a ‘patriotic’ whisky, like a synthesis of the three styles of French whisky I referred to earlier. So we selected three from the thirty-five French whiskies we tasted in a blind tasting – one from each of the major whisky-producing regions – so that we could draw on the special features of each. Then, we got down to the heart of what it is we do: the blending. Then we allowed the whisky to mature. We can easily spend a whole day on blending to arrive at the precise style we’re looking for. The three key words that guide us through that process are elegance, finesse and balance. Altogether, we spent three years on research and development.

It sounds as if this process similar to that of a perfumer?

Jean Moueix : Yes. And it also continues into the maturing process. Normally, raw spirits are matured in previously used casks or those have been seared at high temperature. The cask heating technique used in Bordeaux for grand cru vintages is very gentle and very slow. So we thought it could be interesting to apply this very specific technique to spirits.

Alexandre Sirech : Heating the cask slowly and sprinkling it regularly with freshwater prevents it from burning. Whisky matured in these casks will be particularly high in lignin, which gives it a round and fruity character that is very smooth, and free of the toasted vanilla - almost burnt - taste usually experienced. This makes all the difference and gives Bellevoye its distinctive style.

In the Lorrain dialect, Bellevoye means "the beautiful way"

Image - Bellevoye, Le whisky version française

Choose your colour

Bellevoye bleu

A triple malt originating in three French distilleries (in the Nord, Alsace and Charente regions) and matured for between three and eight years in French oak casks in each of the three distilleries. After blending the three individual malts, the whisky is matured again for between nine and twelve months in new French oak casks toasted using a method new to the world of spirits. This final maturing process takes place at the Bellevoye winery in Charente.

Bellevoye rouge

Triple malt. A premium blend matured in casks previously used for a Saint-Émilion grand cru classé claret.

Bellevoye noir

A peated triple malt distilled from malted barley dried over Lorraine peat.

Bellevoye blanc

Bellevoye Bleu matured in tasks previously used for sauternes wine.

So what whiskies do you have in your range?

Jean Moueix : We started in September 2015 with a very small batch of Bellevoye Bleu: just 3,600 bottles. Two months later, all that stock was gone! Bellevoye Rouge, made using our best batches of raw spirit and matured for longer, was launched in September 2016. Since then, we’ve refined the maturing process, so that it’s now matured in casks previously used for a Saint-Émilion grand cru classé claret. In 2017, we created two other new additions: Bellevoye Noir, a peated whisky, and Bellevoye Blanc, matured in sauternes tasks.

Two barley harvests every year are what gives French whisky its broad palette of flavours and added complexity

And less than four years after your launch, Bellevoye is on the menu at the Élysée Palace and in Air France Business and First Class cabins!

Alexandre Sirech : Bellevoye has been on the Élysée Palace menu since June 2016, and available on Air France flights since October 2018. So for at least the next three years, business passengers will be able to enjoy Bellevoye Bleu, while First Class passengers are offered Bellevoye Rouge. Winning the Air France tendering process – which lasted a whole year – is clear recognition of our distinctive offering and high standards: our tasting score was the highest of any contender in the final shortlist. It’s a fundamentally meritocratic process, which allows us to assert our presence in the market, since we cannot engage in marketing on the scale of the corporates of the spirits world. If we didn’t offer whiskies that are unique and original, we wouldn’t be there at all, and in the wider sense, we wouldn’t be able to build a consumer following. Our presence on ventealapropriete.com is a perfect example of this dynamic approach!

Four years after the brand launch, Bellevoye is on the Élysée Palace menu and has been awarded the contract for Air France Business and First Class flights.