Travel

Meet Nicolas Julhès, the Paris-based spirit distiller

Nicolas Julhès takes a visionary approach to producing his range of premium gins, whiskies, rums and vodkasThursday, 30 May 2019

By Jez Fredenburgh
Nicolas Julhès

Ever since Nicolas Julhès was a child, he’s experienced tastes and scents as colours and textures. “When I was young,” he says at his 10th arrondissement micro-distillery, “I ‘felt’ perfume, and I thought how amazing that lemons make a scent that can transport you, like witches making a potion.”

Now, in a cobbled courtyard behind his family’s epicerie, Nicolas is putting his sensory talents to use at the distillery he and his brother, Sébastien, have run since 2015 (the first to open in the French capital for over a century). Here, in what he describes as his “pleasure lab”, dark-glass bottles with chunky cork stoppers bearing stylish ‘Distillerie de Paris’ labels jostle for space on shelves stacked with others marked ‘agave’, ‘maple’ and ‘miel’ (‘honey’); an entire wall is taken up by a gleaming copper still; and the musty aroma of fermentation hangs in the air.

Nicolas has designed more than 90 gins, whiskies, rums and vodkas in the past three years, selling them to local restaurants and bars. Before he created his first gin, he drew how he wanted it to taste on a piece of paper. “Everything has to start with a shape — a structure brings beauty,” he tells me. “I started by drawing four pillars — wood, fruit, spice and a flower,” he explains, referring to the typical base ingredients of the spirit. He then infused this with a variety of “hidden ingredients” — bergamot, coriander and
citrus — that would reveal themselves after dilution. Batch 1 tastes of spice with a hint of coriander, which becomes stronger with the addition of water.

Nicolas experiments with each new batch, taking inspiration from the city’s food markets, its pastry chefs, designers, architects and perfumers — until he’s found the right blend. Next, inspired by a trip to Japan, he’s planning to dabble with black beans and matcha. But how does he know what will work? “It’s like when you’re painting,” he says. “It comes from your gut.” 

Where to buy it
Distillerie de Paris’s Batch 1 Gin, Vodka India and Rhum Galabe are available at Fortnum & Mason. £45 for 50cl. fortnumandmason.com

Published in Issue 5 of National Geographic Traveller Food.

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