So there I was. Cradled in the arms of a gentleman, who was much more my senior, taking the benefit of his body warmth to shield myself from the winter chill…
The be more precise perhaps, I was lying limp in the arms of an elderly gentleman, who by this point had become alarmingly visually impaired, as we slid down a mountainside at pace! But more on that shortly…
I was about 7 years old and had accompanied my parents on a high school skiing trip to Austria, on account of my mom being a History Teacher at the school (just in case you thought they might both have been students and extremely young parents!). Both were fairly accomplished skiers, and had jumped at the opportunity to chaperone the week long excursion – though I can only imagine it was more for the opportunity to ‘hit the slopes’ rather than to have to deal with a bus full of emotionally unstable teenagers!
After a coach journey that was seemingly never ending, my first experience of a ferry, ‘chatting up’ the older girls and falling in with the ‘class clowns’ (who presumably used the guise of friendship with the teachers child to mask their indiscretions) we arrived.
As with all kids, I was fearless. I would think nothing of throwing myself down a hillside run that was far outside my skill set before any instructor, parent or class clown would have the opportunity to intervene. And I was in my element!
A tour guide and experienced (polite way of saying he was pressing on in his years) ski instructor had been designated to the group to provide lessons for the week, coaxing a mob of unruly adolescents down the snow covered rock face for hours at a time. And it was on a day of particularly bad weather and low visibility, thanks to fog & an unexpected snow shower, that yours truly managed to skid on a patch of black ice and take a tumble…
Now, had I have been meaning to do the splits whilst remaining attached to my skis, it would have been an acrobatic feat performed with aplomb! Unfortunately, it was just rotten luck and pretty unpleasant, rendering me useless for the journey back to the hotel.
Suddenly, I found myself swept up in to the arms of our instructor, and intrepid hero. Despite his…experience…he enthusiastically threw himself (and me by default) in to the assent. And as if the blinding snow fall wasn’t tricky enough to navigate, he had limited use of one eye through an undisclosed injury during the week. It was like something from a very low budget action film…
I was bruised and shaken but undeterred – I think I missed the next days outing but was back racing down the slopes in no time. A pastime I still enjoy to this day!
But after experiencing something like that, I know I will always remember that ski instructor. My hero. In fact, sometimes when it snows, and there’s a breeze blowing the tree branches above me, I hear the name ‘Terry’ gently whispering amongst the rustle of the leaves. Which is strange. Because his name was John?…
But why am I sliding back through the years, like my younger self sliding down a mountainside? Well, with ex-pat parents living in the Alpine region of Evian, France, I am occasionally lucky enough to receive juniper based gifts from the other side of the channel. And in the absence of having had a white Christmas this year, I’m bringing you snowy peaks of a different kind instead! Indeed, the subject of this latest review takes inspiration from the highest mountain in the Alps and Western Europe; Mont Blanc.
Distilleries Cherry Rocher – Depuis 1705
But before we get in to the ‘whys and wherefores’ of the Mont Blanc Gin itself, it’s important that we take a look the brand behind the Spirit. And having been crafted by the Cherry Rocher Distillery, it would be fair to say they come packing a wealth of history and heritage!
Having been established by Barthélémy Rocher in La Côte-Saint-André in 1705, Cherry Rocher boast the title of having been the first distillery in France. Barthélémy was focussed on concocting spirits that combined macerated fruit and plants, which earned him considerable plaudits and a reputation that would go on to see his liquids in demand by Grenoble dignitaries, to celebrate high profile weddings and royal visits. Ooo, fancy!
As the years passed by, the Cherry Rocher thirst for growth and expansion seemed equal to its desire to create epic spirits, seeing the brand merge with the Neyret and Chavin distilleries, then too with the Distillerie de l’Hermitage in the 1980’s (though you’ll still find some products, including a genepi, baring the l’Hermitage name).
What may have started life from humble beginnings, summed up by the Cherry Rocher strap line of ‘Alcool de fruits et extracts aromatiques de plantes’ (alcohol of fruits & aromatic plant extracts) has evolved over time in to a huge back catalogue. The team explain on their website that “innovation is much more than just a buzz word for us, as we develop over 100 recipes per year”.
And when looking at the impressive arsenal of products baring their name, it’s not a claim that’s too difficult to believe. Amongst their ranks they boast absinthe, bourbon, brandies, fruit wines, liqueurs and aperitifs, rums and vermouths! It’s an assortment so large that it has forced the brand in to two (large!) premises; one in La Côte Saint-André that is dedicated to maceration and distillation (the life blood of the brand!) and one in Ruy (in the Rhône-Alpes region) which focuses on product completion and packaging, alongside quality control and research & development.
Mont Blanc; climbing the mountain
But for me, surely the crowning jewel of the Cherry Rocher family is the Mont Blanc range. Comprised of liquids that include a selection of genepi’s, a vodka and a whiskey, all made using the waters from Mont Blanc itself, it was (unsurprisingly) the gin that had made its way in to my midst!
The team explain the thinking behind the creation of the Mont Blanc range, as taking inspiration from the landscape and its natural beauty;
“For this range, we searched for the purest and most natural water we could find. From the melting of the snow and highest glaciers, it is immaculate. It brings the history of the most beautiful mountains in the world. It gives mental pictures of a country and a region where men and nature became one. But above all, it sublimates the finest berries and plants with its transparency”.
Made from a bouquet of mountainous plants, juniper and borage, the ‘pièce de résistance’ is the use of the water taken directly from the source of the glacier, aiming to deliver a purity and transparency;
“Contemplez-le quand il jaillit de la bouteille comme l’eau du glacier, avant de le consommer frappé.”
Or, in other words, the aim is for the drinking experience to recreate the liquid sliding from the bottle like the water melting from the glacier, as it is enjoyed with crushed ice.
Mont Blanc; An icy stare
Before we get in to the finer details of the tasting, we should first take some time to admire the view (much like the thousands of tourists who flock to do the same with the jaw dropping scenery of the namesake mountain range itself).
The bottle is tall, and sleek, perhaps paying homage to the heights of Mont Blanc itself, and boasts an ice blue transparency that is reminiscent of the frozen glacier from which it takes its name. Indeed, when held aloft, it’s as if looking through a sheet of ice. The frosty vibes are complemented by the imagery of Mont Blanc that sits on the bottles front and centre.
It carries a uniqueness and enough points of difference for it to not only standout on a backbar, but also to entice you to want to try it! In today’s market, that’s an essential trait.
There is no mistaking that this gin is a product of Cherry Rocher – it’s a fact that it emblazoned in bold red letters in several prominent locations! However, this also gives a slightly odd aesthetic similar to that of a bottle of mouthwash…
But would the gin inside deliver mountain freshness or minty freshness? There was only one way to find out…
Mont Blanc; A taste of the Alpes
On the nose there is an initial clean hit of juniper alpine pine waiting to greet you. But it seems to sit on a floral orchard of fruited notes; namely apples and pears.
There are bright, candied lemon notes to the vapours, supported by sweeter orange juice pangs. Floral, perfumed, fragrances of apple blossom stroll hand in hand with a bouquet of mountain greenery. That said, I had expected there to be a heavier hitting herbal element that is far less evident on further inspection – though to my personal preferences, it’s a pleasing omission.
To taste, and my first observations are on how smooth the neat spirit is to drink. Part of me wonders whether my mind had already been led to water (excuse the pun) by the backstory of the Mont Blanc water used and the characteristics that it brings – but either way, it seems to carry a cleanliness and purity that offers a pleasant and refined mouthfeel with very little alcohol burn to speak of. Surprisingly then, the neat spirit still delivers a long lasting and most welcome warmth on the finish.
There is more of an aniseed earthiness that washes over the palate than I’d anticipated from the nosing, but it’s delicately done. There are still lashings of apple freshness and spikes of citrus zip, with newly found suggestions of stone fruits that add a delicious new dimension to the tasting.
The juniper remains large throughout, though the finish sees the addition of a refreshing hit of menthol on the back of the throat. Don’t worry! We’re not taking mouthwash territory here – just sufficient to bring an interesting point of difference to round off the spirit. It almost adds to the gins ‘ice cold’ persona.
My initial thinking had been to get the Mont Blanc gin chucked in to a Martini A-SAP! I had hoped those scents of juniper, citrus and crisp orchard fruits would lend themselves perfectly to the cocktail. And whilst it’s definitely drinkable…something’s just not quite right? The menthol seems to pick up strength – it becomes more herbaceous, with the perfumed fruit notes taking a slight step back. On paper, I had felt that the apricot and stone fruits of the vermouth should elevate the gin. But the mountain greenery perhaps seems at odds with the sweetness of the vermouth.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s enjoyable. The delicate apple sweetness does seem to open up as it evolves, bringing a freshness. But it’s doesn’t quite possess the harmony I’d hoped for.
For a safer serve, this gin is however very much at home in a G&T, served ice cold (of course!) with a light tonic, to really pay respect to the unique flavour profile of the mountains.
Mont Blanc; ice, ice baby…
I’ve been a longtime bemoaner of the French gin scene, and the apparent delay in really grasping hold of the juniper movement that has swept other parts of the globe. Thankfully, in recent years, I am beginning to see and taste a definite shift that suggests things may be about to change for the better…
In Mont Blanc, you have a great example of a team looking to create a spirit that transports the drinker to the source of the raw ingredients through the flavour profile, delivering a sense of provenance rather than just a safe sipper.
But will Mont Blanc be the gin that causes the metaphorical avalanche in the French gin market? Only time will tell. For now, I’m raising a glass to my ‘knight in shining armour’ from all those years ago. Here’s to you Terry!…I mean John. Sorry.
If you’d like more information on the Mont Blanc range, or any of the other Cherry Rocher products, head to their website here:
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