When Unfiltered visited Paris eight years ago, France was the number one export market for Scotch by volume, with almost 160 million 70cl bottles shipped there in 2008, compared with 107 million for the US market. In 2016, those figures had grown to 190 million for France, still way ahead of the second biggest market by volume, which was the US with 119 million bottles.
So why are the French so in love with Scotch? These were some of the answers we found.
Serge Valentin, whiskyfun.com
“To us post-war generations, whisky always meant ‘the new cool’, something more rock and roll than cognac or calvados, or even wine. Then we started to have enough pocket money to afford drams of single malt in what we used to call American bars. There was the ‘green’ (Glenfiddich) and there was the ‘white’ (Cardhu). They were for the cognoscenti and, of course, we were all self-styled cognoscenti when we were 18.”
Martine Nouet, whisky writer and chef
“When the Americans came [in in 1944], they were looked on as liberators, and in Paris young people were absolutely frantic about them. The US soldiers drank blended Scotch, and that was a discovery for the French youth at the time. So whisky became very fashionable and a great symbol of freedom and liberty for teenagers and young adults.”
Nicolas Julhés, Salon du Whisky
“Even if someone discovers whisky by trying to look smart in a disco, I think it is amazing that whatever way they get into it, they won’t get out again. Because after that taste, they are going to say, ‘Wow, what is this?’ Once you’re into this, it stays with you, it draws you in.
“The French think they know everything, especially about wine, but with whisky they are more humble, the discussion is more open. And as a flavour game, it’s not only for old people. Girls say they don’t drink whisky and don’t know anything about it, but when they taste it they say, ‘hey!’ They think it’s a little bit like perfume, wondering about the flavour and the structure. They like it very much.”
Thierry Benitah, La Maison du Whisky
“In the last few years, because of growing activity on the internet and new type of communities, we’re seeing a younger customer who is quite knowledgeable. For the last 15 years, people have been into smoky whisky. Everything started with Lagavulin, which has been huge, Islay is still very strong, while younger people don’t hesitate to buy younger whiskies. And Japanese malts are becoming very big – people are looking for new experiences all the time. But single malt remains the richest and biggest category – it’s supported by so many brands, it’s unique. From the French perspective, there’s also a kind of exoticism, because it’s from Scotland and to the French, that’s a special country.”
Arnaud Bradol, restaurant owner
“One of first whiskies I tasted was Lagavulin… everybody in France knows it. But when I tasted it, it was the beginning for me. That was the start of tasting whiskies in the same way as I taste wine. Now I’m thinking more about matching food and whisky, in the way that the Japanese consider that an art.”