From Cognac to Calvados, Pastis to Picon. We’ve sorted the complete guide to French spirits to finally end the stereotype that the French are only good for their wine.

Pastis

The war is on: are you 51 or Ricard? Both are famous Pastis: the typical anise drink for the typical southern aperitif. The original was invented right after absinthe became forbidden during WW1. It was a young salesman in the late 1920s called Paul Ricard who was the first to decide to market the drink in his name. While he did it illegally at first, after many negotiations, he managed to get a license for his “Ricard”, and this is how the refreshing drink was created! As Marcel Pagnol said: “when we open the mouth, it is either to drink a pastis or to say the truth.”

Cognac

Do you know how Cognac was invented? The Region of Charente had been producing vast amounts of wine for centuries in the “vignoble du poitou”, and with the opening of the sea ways, the goal was to export it further. The problem? The wine was damaged by the high temperatures during the trip! To solve the issue, producers raised the level of alcohol to conserve it for longer. Soon the first French eau-de-vie was marketed. As for Cognac, it was created thanks to the barrels it was stored in which gave it that unique amber colour and its special taste.
Fun fact: Cognac is not really appreciated by the French! Only 3% of Cognac is drunk in France, the rest is exported!

Picon

175 years ago, Gaetan Picon, a French soldier in Algeria, got sick and tried to create a remedy made of local ingredients such as orange peels and quinquina. He decided to put it on sale under the name of African Bitter, and then moved to Marseille where he marketed it as Amer Picon. Since then, Picon has become notably famous for its pairing with beer. A small fact: Picon Biere was first served in 1967!

Calvados

Did you know Calvados was flowed in abundance during WW1? Indeed the government called on Calvados producers to provide the required amount of alcohol for the soldiers. Calvados was first thought of in Normandy during the 16th century, in the journal of Gilles de Gouverville. He got the idea to distil cider in order to obtain an eau-de-vie. It was in 1606 that the first cider eau-de-vie producers started to appear. Yet we had to wait until the 19th century for this eau-de-vie to be named.

Armagnac

Armagnac is the name of one of the most powerful families of the French Kingdom. They were settled in Gascony, and gave their name to one of the local famous brandies! While often assimilated to Cognac, it is in fact very different due to the kind of grape used for its production. Plus, as it was invented 150 years before Cognac, it’s France’s oldest eau-de-vie! Its strength compared to other liquors resides in its constant authenticity.

Cointreau

You all know the famous Cosmopolitan, popularized in the New Yorker series Sex and the City. Well, this cocktail is made of Cointreau, a French liqueur (triple sec) that comes from Saint Barthélémy d’Anjou, near Angers! Two brothers from a family of pastry chefs had decided to break away from the family business by creating a distillery. Famously, Cointreau is made of a mix between sweet and bitter orange peels: however, surprisingly the Cointreau brothers first wanted to make a liquor from cherry. The idea of orange actually comes from Edouard, the son of one of them!

Chartreuse

Did you know Chartreuse is made of more than a hundred medicinal plants? It was originally an elixir invented in 1605 by monks of la Chartreuse de Vauvert in Paris. As a result, it was given the name “Elixir de Longue Vie”. Surprisingly though, it was only used in Paris for one decade. Yet, in the Alps, close to Grenoble, the monastery of La Grande Chartreuse managed to rewrite the formula under the name of “Elixir Végétal de la Grande Chartreuse”. After that, a lot of different variations came from the original Chartreuse: a yellow one, a white one, and many others have seen the day since.

So, do you still think France is all about wine? Now you have an idea of what is made in France. There is a lot more to discover, explore it all with EBSParis. Discover the full flavour of France today.