Exploring Whiskey Terroir with Hautes Glaces's Frédéric Revol

Feeling as if Whiskey had lost touch with its agricultural roots, Frédéric Revol established Hautes Glaces to explore the liquid’s terroir

By: Tiff Christie|June 20,2024

If you travel high into the French Alps between the cliffs of Vercors and the peaks of Écrins National Park, you might be surprised that besides some of the world’s most beautiful mountain terrain, there is also Whiskey.

Surrounded by the Trièves Mountains, Hautes Glaces is the world’s oldest organic whisky farm and distillery, established in 2009 by Frédéric Revol.

Nestled in such beauty, it’s not surprising that the distillery aims to put terroir at the heart of the taste of all its liquids.

To find out more, we talk to Revol about grains, terroir and what it’s like to distil in the French Alps.

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Tiff Christie
If you travel high into the French Alps between the cliffs of Vercors and the peaks of Écrins National Park, you might be surprised that besides some of the world’s most beautiful mountain terrain, there is also Whiskey.
Surrounded by the Trièves Mountains sits Les Hautes Glaces, the world’s oldest organic whisky farm & distillery, established in 2009 by Frédéric Revol.
Nestled in such beauty, it’s not surprising that the distillery aims to put terroir at the heart of the taste of all its liquids.
To find out more, we talk to Revol about grains, terroir and what it’s like to distil in the French Alps
Thank you for joining us, Frédéric.

Frédéric Revol
Thank you for the invitation.

Tiff Christie 1.35
Now describe for us the landscape in which your liquids are born.

Frédéric Revol
I think you said some words about the landscape. The distillery is located in the heart of the French Alps. So this is a place where we are surrounded by mountains and peaks from the Alps. And this is a high plate, a landscape of farming, but in high altitude.
Because this plate is one of the most high agricultural plates in Europe, in continental Europe. So this is a very pristine area. We are not so much inhabitants in there and we've got a wonderful connection with elements by there.

Tiff Christie
Now your background is as an agronomist. What led you to distilling?

Frédéric Revol
I'm agronomist, you're right, but I'm also, and maybe before, I'm a wine and spirit lover. And I felt into whiskey at the beginning of the millenar. And looking at how the whiskey is produced by this time, I was surprised that nobody was speaking about the crop, nobody was speaking about the provenance. The industry was talking about distillation, was talking about maturation. And for me, the raw material, the place, is the essence of something that you can drink or eat. Because when you drink or you eat something,
This is coming from nature, obviously, and it will also be part of you, definitely, because you will absorb it. And so for me, this connection, this cycle with nature has to be done and is very important in the way of thinking what we can produce. So...
I decided to create from scratch a form distillery meaning this link to the terroir, this link to the raw material for me was missing so my vision was to try to create a whisky that can as a quest of terroir, something like that.

Tiff Christie
Now most distillers talk about the flavor of their liquid coming from the barrel, but your brand is focused more on the terroir. How much impact do you think terroir really has on something like whiskey?

Frédéric Revol
I think it fully depends on the way of your thinking your product. Probably the terroir may have no impact at all if you don't take care, if you don't look at the terroir in itself. If you are producing a very clear and soft and simple spirit and then you
You put it in very expressive barrels for sure. You wouldn't find any terroir in it in the final product. But if you take care about the crops you are using, if you are at each step of the process, filling is the tipicity of the grain, of the place.
And if you are working in order to magnify it, then at the end of the process, you will have a whisky where you can feel definitely the terroir.

Tiff Christie
Do you think the whisky world has lost sight of its agricultural roots and forgotten that connection with the land?

Frédéric Revol
Yeah, I think so. And that's why, the reason why of hot glass is for me, this loss of connection. I think this is more than whiskey. It's more than a whiskey issue. This is a society issue to have lost this connection to the natural cycles, to the limits, to the boundaries of our planet.
But for me, it is very, very... You can see that for sure in the whiskey industry. Most of the whiskey producer, and when you go to a show, when I go to a show presenting my whiskey, for sure someone will ask the question, what is the part of the cask?
in the whiskey expression. It is 80%, it is 90%, all the time you've got this kind of question.
This means that for people, whiskey is about oak barrels. But a whiskey, this is a crop haute-ville. This is a cereal haute-ville. For sure, this is aging barrels. But in the balance, for me, there's something wrong. And so this is the project of Haute -Glas, making everything from the soil to the bottle is try to find equilibrium, balance in all the steps and all the characters that this wonderful product can express through the crop, through the melting, through the brewing, through the distilling, et cetera, et cetera. So yes, for sure, the connection has been lost. And yes, for sure, the reason why. of Haute Glaces is try to make this direct connection by the through a drum. Yeah, something like that. I'm not sure to be clear, but...

Tiff Christie
Now the brand talks about micro providence. What exactly do you mean by that?

Frédéric Revol (08:40.546)
You asked me if the whiskey industry has lost the connection and when I started my Drone I can remember this figure about Scotch production. Scotch production was using in one day of distillation the whole production of Scotch in barley. What does it mean? It means that 364 days per year, the raw material was not coming from Scotland.
So, there’s no provenance at all in the whiskey industry. Globally, I mean. At the scale of the Domaine des Hautes Glaces, every sink comes from the area, maximum 15 kilometers from the distillery. So, yeah, everything has been harvested in the place, in this mountain plate.
surrounded by mountains in this area. So this is the first step of the provenance. Everything is coming from the place. But then we've got a micro provenance.
project and trial a little bit like in the wine industry because we are working plot by plot.
very small piece of land with their own specificity in terms of soil, in terms of climate. Climate because the exposition east or east, west, north, and in the mountain, it is very important. So as a winemaker, we are making whiskey
single plot whiskey and this is micro provenance and time after time, year after year we are now able to see that and to taste that this micro provenance can have a huge effects on the profile of the whiskey at the end of the journey.

Tiff Christie
Okay, that's interesting. What sort of effect?

Frédéric Revol
It's a little bit hard to explain because, for example, in the wine...
You can feel the plot effect, but it has been built by decades of producers that are fully transparent about their wine yard and their wine, about the vintage, about the plot. And so the words have been built by the community in itself … learning all together these subtleties and the way of expressing it. But for example, we have launched this year what we call an exploration. So this is two whiskeys, the same seed as have been used, two different plots, and then it has been molded with the same recipe, brewed, fermented and distilled the same week and put in very old casks and after three years the cask has been swapped. So everything should be the same and the only difference is the plot. One plot is at the bottom of a big cleave of chalk.
West exposure and the other plot is on the rhyolithic soil. This is volcano soil and East exposure. And the two whiskeys are very different and I would say that one is more mineral, intense, fresh, earthy and the other one is more...
The spice is not the same. This is a more oriental spice. This is more creamy. So very different. A little bit. To take the comparison with the wine world, with the Chardonnay grape, you know this kind of wine, the grape, a little bit...

has the difference as a Chablis for the Chardonnay and the Montrachet in the Burgundy. You know, one is very minimal, the other one is more baker, yes, breaded, buttery. And I think, and the only difference between the two cuvées, between the two limited editions is the plot. So...

Tiff Christie
That's really interesting. Now you've stated that you've turned environmental constraints into a source of creativity. How is that expressed?

Frédéric Revol
So we are fully organic and we are concerned by environmental issues and so we don't use pesticides, herbicides, we don't use any chemicals at the distillery. So this puts constraints on the way of your processing things and this for me also open your mind to many things. For example, in terms of agronomy, it is very important to make a crop rotation on the fields in order to prevent disease, in order not to kill the soil potential. And so on
One field on one plot, year after year, we are sowing barley but also spelt, rye, then grass. So as we are using many crops we are also working with these crops in order to transform them into whisky. And that's why from the beginning we are also
We are single mold producers, but we are also single rye producers, but we are also single spelt producers. So it's both. Finally, nobody was producing spelt. A few were producing rye. And because of our constraints, because we are also, we like diversity.
We have opened new fields, new opportunities in terms of whiskeys through this approach. And another example, more for packaging reason, but it's also important, packaging in terms of sustainability in the whisky industry. And you know when you brew, then you have draft. This is what's left after the brewing.
And the draft, we use it for, we compost the draft and then we use it in the field. But we are also drying it and we are making the top of our closure, the top of the cork of our bottles with this material. So sometimes, because you are thinking about how to create circular stuff, how not to waste resources. You invent new stuff as a new type of top for the bottle, as new whiskeys, as single spelt, et cetera, et cetera.

Tiff Christie
Now in that same vein, I believe you recently reduced your bottle size from 70 centilitres to 50 centilitres. Is that also for the environmental impact of transport?

Frédéric Revol
Yeah, we have changed the bottle for environmental purposes and going from 70 to 50 cc was quite a challenge because obviously for the same quantity of whiskey, if you've got smaller bottle, you will have more top, you will have more labels, etc. So...
The idea was to reduce footprint, but also to reduce the size of the bottle. And the reason of the reduction of the size of the bottle was more about how whiskeys are tasting whiskeys, whiskeys that you need to take your time to appreciate them. This is not big consumption whiskeys. So the small size is more adapted to the way where our whiskeys are drink. And we also have a lot of limited series as I said before. So as a whiskey drinker, I like to drink limited series.
And so I like also when the saw, the bottle is not too big because I like changing and I like the diversity. So that's why the 50s and 30s. But doing that...

Tiff Christie (20:07.257)
So you've actually thought about the end user.

Frédéric Revol (20:09.874)
Yes, exactly. But doing that, we have changed the type of glass using what we call white glass. This is a transition glass with a very low emission carbon footprint. We have made new top with our draft. And also, we have changed the shape in order to reduce the space when you when you send the bottles. So on and on, changing the bottle has improved the global carbon footprint for 40%, about 40 % of reduction in terms of carbon footprint, which is quite good. And there is also an index for eco -responsibility in the packaging industry, and taking in account CO2 but also water, also heavy metals, things like that, and we have reduced this index for 80%.
So the move was a great move for environment as well as a salt for the end consumer.

Tiff Christie
Now let's talk about some of your whiskies. You have two main expressions. Tell us a little bit about the Indigene.

Frédéric Revol
So, Indigene, this is a single mouth. And I don't know if it's clear for an English person, but indigine means coming from the place. Indigine in French, but also in English. This is a word for... Indigine means native. Because everything is coming from the place.
The raw material, the water, but also the energy because we are using wood and local renewable energy for distilling. And I would say that... How could I say that? Indians try to reinterpret the Scottish single mold tradition, but in an Alpine way, rooted in the place. And this is a kind of aromatic snapshot about the place because this is a vat of more than 100 distillates from different vintages, from different plots around the distillery. And so we have created this, this wonderful vat that we call the mother vat and through Indigen you can feel the both the type of aroma that you will find in the hot glass whiskeys but also you can feel the impact of time because this is a mix of
whiskeys from 4 to 12 years old and there is something about time inside as well.

Tiff Christie (24:15.417)
Now they're made on a Barley base, I believe.

Frédéric Revol (24:19.82)
Yes, sorry, yeah, a single mode, yes, on barley.

Tiff Christie (24:23.129)
Now your second main expression is the Vulson, which is more of a Rye base, I understand.

Frédéric Revol (24:29.196)
Yes, you're right. This is a... Vulson is a single rye, meaning this is 100 % rye and rye spirit. And Velsan is a very cool product. It is more an Eau de Vie than a whiskey because it is not aged in barrel. So this is clear and this is rested, not aged, but rested in neutral continents as stainless steel tanks or glass or amphoras, but for years. So this is also a vat of different vintages from one to 11 years old of clear spirit of rye. And the idea was to create a nice spirit dedicated to these special flavors of the rye. And so this is an atypic product.
Somewhere between a fruit Eau de Vie, between a mezcal and between a whiskey. Somewhere by there.

Tiff Christie (26:11.033)
Or perhaps even what the Americans might call moonshine.

Frédéric Revol (26:14.89)
No, because it's not a moonshine because it has been rusted for years so it's quite different. And frankly it's more, it's closer than a mescal than a moonshine in terms of a... Because rye can be very spicy, very earthy, very, a little bit smoky as well. And...
And yes, and this is a triple distillation. What we distilled for the whiskey, this is double distillation. And for this product, this is a triple distillation. And this distillation brings something very special in terms of complexity and texture and with the time as well. So yeah. This is a very nice product.

Tiff Christie (27:19.417)
Now aside from your permanent expressions, you also have a limited edition collection that you've entitled, and I'm going to trip over this, Epistémè. Tell us a little bit about that.

Frédéric Revol (27:43.944)
So, Episteme, this is a collection of limited edition. Episteme means something like knowledge, know -how, something like that, science. And as we do everything from the soil to the bottle for 15 years now, we have developed a kind of expertise about the impact, the influence of each step of the process of the whisky. And we are creating limited editions about these influences. The idea is to exhaust. I don't know how to explain in English, but the idea is that we are creating the collection is structured as a series that we call explorations. And each exploration strives to showcase the influence on a specific factor. For example, I talked before about this exploration about the plots, the two plots that are here. But we also make some series about the influence of the casks. So this is the same whiskey, then the same plot, the same vintage. And then we have just changed the cask. So we can taste the difference, the difference bring by the cask.
And so this is a wonderful and unlimited collection of limited series because the world of the whiskey and the process is mysterious and huge. So it's an invitation to taste all this stuff and all the know -how that we can develop at the Domende Haute Glace.

Tiff Christie
Now these expressions, and I kind of love this, are denoted by shape. So squares, triangles, circles and stars. What do the shapes really mean?

Frédéric Revol
It depends on the exploration actually. So there is a code name for each exploration. And for example, the last one was called, not the last one, but the one I talked about for the plots, this is called R18P23. R means this is rye, 18 this is the vintage, P means plot exploration, and 23 this is the bottling year. And then you've got the shape, square it is to design, for the plot, the Montaiguille plot, the plot at the bottom of the cliff, and circle this is to the plot of my farm. But exploration, yeah. Exploration after exploration, for example, we have made also an exploration about casks. And the exploration is called B15C23 and B -Barle, so this is single malt. 15, this is the vintage. C for cask exploration.
And there is a circle expression, and this is a cask of Crozermitage. And there is a triangle expression, and this is a cask of a hot glass of whiskey. So this is to distinguish in an exploration the different expressions and the different factors. Exactly.

Tiff Christie
Now, when people buy your whisky, what do you want them to take away from their experience with the brand?

Frédéric Revol
I hope that they can feel in the liquid what I tried to explain here. I mean this connection to the environment because I think, I believe that our whiskeys are vibrant whiskeys. You know, you've got a lot of experience in it and a lot of subtilities, a lot of so on.
I hope this will talk to the proper experience of the drinker. Making the connection with the memories of the form of the grandfather, making the connection with the smell of the forest after the rain, making the connection of the... something like that. And... So, I think this is the challenge but I don't know if I answered the question.

Tiff Christie
Yeah, it did. It did. Now, if people want more information on the brand, they can of course go to your website, which is www .hotglas .com or connect with the brand via your socials.

Frédéric Revol
Thank you, Tiff.

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