Sara Parkin visits 'Domaine des Hautes Glaces'

We approached cross-country, via winding French roads with spectacular views. As it was an Open Day, we were confident posters and signs would guide us to one of Rémy Cointreau’s newest acquisitions, a small alpine farm-distillery in a pretty remote part of France which, with Westland (USA), has recently become a baby sister to Islay’s Bruichladdich Distillery.

But no, not a hint as we went over the Col and into the village that make up the distillery address. No posters, no signs, no people except, by luck, a post-lady. She guided us back up the road, but it was only when we recognised the farm from the pictures on the website that we found the brilliantly named Domaine des Hautes Glaces.

Still no posters though. No signs, no people and, in a very French way, the 11.00 opening did not happen till after 11.30. So we loitered in the company of a young hospital chef with a whisky hobby and voluble pride in his identical (but dram-free) menus for patients and staff all cooked from fresh ingredients.

Our visit was inspired by a chance encounter with proprietor Frédéric Revol in May when he was on Islay, dining with Bruichladdich’s Simon Coughlin at Yan’s in Port Charlotte. We discovered Domaine des Hautes Glaces was on our planned route back north after a June holiday in France. So we said we would visit.

Which we did. The delayed opening gave us time to explore the grounds of the 16th/17th century farmhouse which is almost a Chateau and is reputed once to have had a room devoted to alchemy.  Extensive farm buildings were added later and it is here the distillery is located.

Tasting and temperature controlled cask rooms are on the ground floor with all the distilling paraphernalia spread about on the first floor, gleaming in the dim light.  Bottling of small production lines is done by hand. We met the mallet used to bang in the corks.

Behind Frédéric Revol’s inspiration for Domaine de Hautes Glaces is his relationship with the local organic farmers. He is an agricultural engineer by trade, and talks passionately about the straight (organic) line taken by the harvest from the fields of grain through the distillation process and into the bottle. Locality is everything, he says. Even the casks are made of French oak. 

So how does it taste? The only barley-based product – Moissons (harvests) Single Malt Organic–was just three years old and tasted fresh and surprisingly smooth. We bought a bottle. The other three products are all rye whiskies so tougher, though the one with herb and flower additions is sure to please the French market where whisky is more often drunk on ice as an aperitif.

A fascinating visit for whisky aficionados and lovers of remote mountains alike. By the way, we did eventually find a poster – it was in the loo on the way out! – so we recommend you take note of the map reference as well as the postal address.

Domaine des Hautes Glaces
Col Accarias 38710 Saint Jean d'Hérans
05° 44' 11'' E / 44° 50' 10'' N

Sara Parkin, Port Charlotte.

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