That European Spirit


Sat in the back of a people carrier as it weaved its way through the French countryside, I stared out of the window across Charente’s yellow and green landscape and couldn’t help but feel slightly blank. The excitement that usually tickled my soul when in Europe was missing. What had become of me? Was it the 4am flight and Ryanair’s depressingly awful near-ten euro interpretation of a Croque-monsieur? Maybe, but I’ve felt better on a much worse diet with far less rest. In my youth summers were spent in Ibiza, forever awake and surviving on bags of Doritos: at one time I was the official poster boy for “BAD FOOD, NO SLEEP” – this was different. 

For the majority of my life I’ve felt immense warmth when making journeys through the continent. Memories from childhood travelling from campsite to campsite with my family will stay with me forever. River walking the Dordogne, watching shooting stars streak through the night sky at the bottom of the Alps and the time I almost gave a German lady a stroke after getting caught licking the honey spoon in the queue for a breakfast-buffet. God bless those precious times and sacred memories. Along with frequent trips through adulthood, these recollections served as a support mechanism for my fraught experience dealing with the harsh realities of living in London. Reassuring thoughts of being able to sod off to Europe acted as a comfort blanket every time my rent increased and it pissed it down in the summer. There was a way out. 

If you haven’t already guessed, my trip to this beautiful part of France coincided with the result of that thing beginning with ‘B’ we’ve all heard far too much about. Fortunately for me however, I was on my way to Cognac to eat French food and visit a few local distilleries. There are worse ways to deal with disappointment.

Steeped in history, Cognac is an area famed for its traditions in the art of distilling. Fiercely proud of their history when it comes to making their namesake spirit, for many years locals have kept the secrets of the soil, vines and barrels close to the dusty distillery walls. The healthy measure of mythology adds to the quality of the liquor and like many other wine and spirit regions throughout, not just France, but Spain and Italy also, the know-how involved is serious business. 

However, over recent years the secretive huddle of the French distilling communities had loosened, leaving the door open for foreign spirit makers eager to soak up the years of expertise found here. It’s an attractive pull for those wanting to support the growing revival of French craft distilling techniques and given the region’s rich culture, why not? With that in mind it’s worth pointing out that I was in Cognac to drink vodka. 

Sauvelle is a spirit made from a soft winter wheat, oak-smoothed through chêne du Limousin. The brainchild of Antoine Gravouil and created by Australian master distiller Miko Abouaf, it uses a French-centric production process that includes sourcing base materials, water, and personnel from the local area. The regional traditions and structures help take the refinement of the spirit to the next level. 

Sauvelle isn’t the only brand of vodka utilising the regions expertise either. Other distillers have since set up shop in Cognac and now call this place their home. It’s sad to think that whilst Marmite disappears from the shelves in Blighty as Boris and Theresa attempt to raise the drawbridge, communities like Cognac are welcoming in other talents from afar and thriving. 

With the free movement of people comes the free movement of skill, of resource and of expertise. A fact that became evident during my trip. Now the opportunity to appreciate other cultures is currently being threatened by the likes of Nigel Farage and his cronies, soon we might find ourselves spamming out on a non-ironic diet of Mothers Pride and stout. In light of the US election result, are we facing the death of globalistaion?

Us Millenials have been rather spoilt by the plethora of gouty delights at our podgy little fingertips, our palates have been refined and kids are being sent to school with lunch boxes full of capers and Brie.

It didn’t feel strange to find myself on the day after the referendum result drinking a Polish spirit, created in France by an Australian distiller for a French company based in London. It felt strange to think that the possibility to continue doing that in the future might be obscured by a few xenophobic idiots.


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