La Maison du Whisky

La Maison du Whisky

This weekend, I think I just made my twentieth, and last, visit of the year to La Maison du Whisky. For the life of me, I have no idea what prompted me to go to a liquor store the Saturday before Christmas. Well, actually I do.

La Maison du Whisky

I was preparing to refill one of my empty cocktail aging barrels and the next cocktail on the docket required red (sweet) vermouth. After exhausting the three liquor stores in my neighborhood, who had no idea what I was talking about (although one caviste thanked me for illuminating him, which I thought was odd because I know very little about vermouth), I took a very crowded #96 bus over to the Left Bank to stock up on a few bottles.

La Maison du Whisky

The bus was really packed and although I did appreciate being privy to the conversation of the young, twenty-something woman next to me, having a very vocal chat on her mobile phone that was about, well – nothing, I ended up walking 1 1/2 hours back home, after my liquor shopping, because you couldn’t have slid a centime into the return bus that pulled up. (The walk through gray, wintery Paris was beautiful – and it was especially nice not to have the running commentary of a twenty-something to accompany it.)

La Maison du Whisky

I’ve become a bit of a fan of the shop because in addition to things like vermouth rouge, they also carry those fairly obscure French liqueurs that are back in fashion elsewhere, but are hard to find on their home turf. On each visit, I usually find something that I’d never heard of, and it’s always interesting to wander around the shop and check out the curiosities, like Acqua di Cedro, an Italian distillation of citron fruits, or King’s Ginger, a liqueur made in Holland whose bottle says it is “…appreciated by bon viveurs, sporting gentlemen and high-spirited ladies.” Who, coincidentially, are just the kind of people that I usually hang out with.

La Maison du Whisky
La Maison du Whisky
La Maison du Whisky

Maybe it’s just that it’s taken me a few months to sober up (or I’m still recovering from the bus ride), but I’m finally getting around to sorting through a tasting of aged cocktails that I took part of at La Maison du Whisky a few months back. It wasn’t a formal tasting; I’d expressed an interest in learning more about barrel-aged cocktails and Stanislas Jouenne, who mixes cocktails and teaches the art of mixology at the store, was kind enough to shake up a few drinks for me and my friend Forest.

La Maison du Whisky

(They do have frequent tastings, so you can stop in and try something new.)

La Maison du Whisky

If you pass by the shop near the Place de l’Odeon, you’ve likely been fascinated by the window with bottles of interesting and curious French (and other) liqueurs and apéritifs lined up in the window. But if you look up, resting on the balconies, you’ll see barrels perched on the balconies, where cocktails are left to age for months.

La Maison du Whisky

I’ve been considering taking one of the bartending courses at the shop, especially the one in how to make bitter and syrups (which I didn’t see listed on their current roster), and Stan (as he’s often known) showed me some of the herbs and roots – like star anise, angelica root, and cinnamon – that he uses from a local herboriste.

La Maison du Whisky

It’s something I’ve truly been meaning to tackle myself, but for those non-DIY types, there are various types of bitters on hand that add a beguiling complexity to cocktails, including those flavored with cardamom, coriander, tarragon, and chocolate.

La Maison du Whisky

Because of the worldwide interest in cocktails and “vintage” liqueurs, companies like Tempus Fugit Spirits has been reviving a few of these forgotten flavors, with versions of liqueurs crafted in Switzerland, that contain quinine (a bitter root), a natural violet liqueur that’s a far cry from the overly sweet purple liquids one usually finds, and crème de cacao, distilled from cocoa beans and pods of vanilla.

La Maison du Whisky

Years ago I did a tasting of absinthe with John, the owner of Tempus Fugit and when I took a sip from one of the glasses, a big splash of absinthe landed squarely in my eye. “That’s why we call that the ‘money shot’ glass” he laughed, which made me glad of my present career, where I’m more likely to get hit in the eye with buttercream than anything else.

Bitter aperitivos from Italy also play an important role in cocktail-making, at least to me (I love a bit of bitter in a drink) and many of the aged cocktails in the shop have a dash of bitters, such as amaro or Nardini bitter, which is made with rhubarb, absinthe herbs, and sour orange, to give the cocktails a bit of an edge.

La Maison du Whisky

We tasted some of the house inventions, such as a Mexican Negroni, made with Red Noilly Prat, Nardini bitter, tequila bianco, and a shot of mezcal. Sipping one that was freshly made versus one that had been barrel-aged for six months revealed how a leisurely wait in a barrel really mellows out a cocktail.

La Maison du Whisky

And as we found out, it mellows out those who drink them, too!

La Maison du Whisky
La Maison du Whisky

There was also a Rum’Tam, made with rum, Noilly Prat gold and chocolate bitters, which curiously, was more interesting fresh than aged. (The aged was a bit too refined and it had mellowed quite a bit.)

La Maison du Whisky

For those who can’t wait, the shop bottles them up and you can head in and pick up a bottle of already aged cocktails, such as Botzaris, made with Ferrand cognac, Rittenhouse rye, and cardamom bitters. (Mis en fût is the date that it was placed in the barrel, and mise en bouteille is the date that it was bottled – so this one shown was aged for about eight months.)

La Maison du Whisky
La Maison du Whisky
La Maison du Whisky

I have to say, patrolling the store, I usually leave there with an extra bottle or two of something interesting to mix up at home. (Even if I’m walking home and have to lug them over my shoulder!) And now, my cocktail barrels on my kitchen counter are back to being full. But I don’t dare leave mine outside – I think they’re be swiped in a New York, or Paris, minute. So I’m keeping mine safely inside. Where I can keep an eye on them.

La Maison du Whisky

La Maison du Whisky
6, Carrefour de L’Odéon (6th)
Tél: 01 46 34 70 20
M: Odéon

(There is another shop in Paris at 20, rue d’Anjou, in the 8th.)

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  • Awfulknitter
    December 23, 2013 2:35pm

    Barrel-aged cocktails! I must have missed your previous post on the Negronis, otherwise I’d have a barrel already…

    I see Noilly Prat rouge in your pictures – is that what you use? If you like bitter, you might want to try Cocci’s red vermouth di Torino, which has a brilliant balance of bitter and sweet. Since I tried it I’ve become a bit of a vermouth snob and don’t really like using anything else! There is a bottle of Lillet rouge languishing unloved in the cocktail cabinet now – not because it bad, but it’s much more a sort of ‘on its own’ aperitif and doesn’t stand up so well in the kind of cocktails I like.

    • December 23, 2013 2:43pm
      David Lebovitz

      I took a few bottles of red vermouth and bitters home to taste them, because I was interested in tasting them side-by-side. The Dolin, made in France, was pretty mild. And that Punt e Mes was a lot more complex. I did not see the Cocchi at La Maison du Whisky – although I looked and it’s on their website, but do love the Nardini bitters (which is more expensive, at €40/bottle, but quite tasty.) Since I’m barrel-aging, am not sure how much of those nuances stay or go during the process. Time will tell!

  • December 23, 2013 2:37pm

    Whisky always smells like Christmas to me. Not entirely sure why, but it does.
    This place looks amazing – and I don’t even drink. So many exciting bottles.

    Hope that you have a great Christmas, David!

  • December 23, 2013 2:38pm

    I love it when you bring us a little bit of Paris. Thanks from icy Toronto!

  • December 23, 2013 3:18pm

    So the barrel you have, it came from your friend who had used it to support a bookshelf, right? Did the MdW people have any ideas as to where you could procure barrels?

    • December 23, 2013 5:42pm
      David Lebovitz

      I a barrel from a local bar, that had one they weren’t using and offered to let me borrow it. I haven’t used the other one yet, that a friend gave me, that she was using to hold up a bookshelf. There are places that sell them online in France, but you do need to make sure that they’re not imported from China, since a distiller warned me that they may be coated with something that you might not want to consume.

  • David Seaman
    December 23, 2013 5:54pm

    Sounds fascinating. I too need to find your Negroni post. When I’m in Paris, I get Italian things at a shop on Rue des Abbesses. Look for sweet vermouth there. Now near Savannah, GA, I miss le quarter des Abbesses!

  • Helen
    December 23, 2013 5:57pm

    What a delight! My mouth is watering away! I never heard of aged cocktails before. It sounds like a bad habit I really do not need, but am willing to dive into. Thanks so much for the enlightenment. Happy Holidays, David!

    bth, I have a cherry liquor recipe that has been made in the villages of Greece for hundreds of years. If you would be interested, I am willing to share. Let me know where to send it. :)

    • December 23, 2013 7:24pm
      David Lebovitz

      Thanks – it’s not cherry season, but since others have inquired, if you want to post the recipe here in the comments, you are welcome to : )

  • December 23, 2013 6:06pm

    love your site David .
    All the best to you in the new year .

  • Liz
    December 23, 2013 6:06pm

    This morning, as I am thinking about my own Christmas plans, I strolled through your December posts through the past few years. I absolutely love all the time and care you put into your Christmas preparation. Thank you for the great recipes and ideas. Cheers to good food and drink! — Have a very Merry Christmas! (from Mountain Home, Arkansas)

  • laetia
    December 23, 2013 6:33pm

    barrel aged cocktails? fabulous! THank you for posting because i had forgotten that Maison du Whisky opened the liquour store at Odeon and only ever think of the rue d’anjou… and OMG Tempus Liqueur de violette? !! **starts running to Odeon, realizes the time and the date, grumbles, notes for the New Year if not before** Thank you for this post!
    PS to Helen, i’d love that cherry liquor recipe, if you are willing to share with someone else than david :)

  • Bonnie
    December 23, 2013 6:38pm

    Love that shop David! We stay at Camdebord’s Relais Saint-Germain across the street and I drive my husband crazy trying to “read” the windows whenever we head out for the day of shopping/touring. So glad you’ve filled us in on the complexity of their stock.

  • BarbaraG
    December 23, 2013 6:48pm

    Hello David,
    Could a book about your home elixirs be brewing in the future?

  • December 23, 2013 6:51pm

    Thanks for another inspirational post.

  • Carol
    December 23, 2013 7:20pm

    Hi David, Have you tried Carpano Antica vermouth for your Negroni’s? Added bonus….it comes in a very pretty tin. I purchase The King’s Ginger here in SF at D and M on Fillmore ,but the one I buy was formulated for King Edward VII by Berry Brothers in London. Hope your flight home was smoothly uneventful. Thoroughly enjoyed reading about your SF sojourn . Bye. Carol

    • December 23, 2013 7:23pm
      David Lebovitz

      I did not try the Carpano vermouth but think I need to make (another!) trip to Torino. I do like the Nardini. The King’s Ginger is a product of a British company, but the label says it is produced in Holland. (If you go to the link and visit their website, the label says that it’s distilled in Holland.)

  • Pam
    December 23, 2013 7:31pm

    I like the Cocchi and Carpano too. Not sure if you liked Mexican Negroni
    sounds weird to me! Nice post thank you.

  • sillygirl
    December 23, 2013 7:52pm

    While our tour group was in Nice in March we were mistakenly given an aperativ of a violette liqueur with sparkling wine – to me it was the most memorable drink of the tour – little tiny sips – heaven.

  • Charles Curran
    December 23, 2013 8:00pm

    If you really enjoy bitters, you need to get a bottle of this.

  • December 23, 2013 8:04pm
    David Lebovitz

    Margaret and Liz: Thanks! Happy holidays to you as well.

    Charles: I tried to find Peychaud’s in Paris but no one carries it. I had people from the US send me some bitters to use in its place.

  • Charles Curran
    December 23, 2013 8:51pm

    David. Available through Amazon, or the company will ship directly to you.

  • December 23, 2013 10:52pm

    I do like the vintage looking labels. Just for the look, I can buy.
    My husband developed a taste for whiskey, scotch and alike, however I just can not get over the woodsy smell. I am trying different mixes, thinking maybe one will be hit. We’ll see.

  • December 24, 2013 12:58am

    Hiiicup! While I sip my boring cranberry juice and vodka, I’m feeling very left out of this interesting bit of cocktail drinking which is new to me!

  • MAG
    December 24, 2013 3:18am

    Interesting feature, but what also caught my eye was the glassware. The shape of the wide, low topped goblet is different than anything I’ve see before. Are these designed especially for certain liquors…and do they have a name/use descriptive? Or am I reading to much into the style. Perhaps it is ‘just’ a wine goblet????

    • December 26, 2013 11:35am
      David Lebovitz

      I love those glasses as well and I’ve not seen them in any shops – but they must be available in professional bartending/restaurant supply shops. I think they may be made by a company called “Chef et Sommelier” and go by the name “coupe à Champagne” or “coupe à cocktail.” They’re for sale from companies like Delamaison in France and I’ve seen them on Amazon (USA) as well.

  • Sarahb1313
    December 24, 2013 4:00am

    I stumbled upon the beautifully aesthetic bottles of the Tempus Fugit line last year this time and was at first enchanted by the Kina label. After reading up a bit I was anxious to get them and ended up having to order them online. The Kina makes a very tasty aperitif all by itself, and one mean Vesper martini that will put you on the floor, but with a happy taste. The creme de cacao and the creme de menthe make a fabulous grasshopper! They were sold out the the Violettes so I have yet to try that one. I have a friend that we call our “mixologist” as she loves trying out her new concoctions on us. I bet she would love a class in making bitters!

    Cheers and happy new year!!

  • Oonagh
    December 24, 2013 4:55am

    Happy Christmas David, and thank you for all the entertainment and education over the past year.

  • David Seaman
    December 24, 2013 7:17am

    Some friends gave us Peychaud’s bitters a few years ago, but I don’t know how to take advantage of them. It’s a Nawlens things, I guess

  • December 24, 2013 4:25pm

    David Seaman,
    Peychaud’s Bitters are different and great, with an anise undertone. The classic use is in a Sazerac, but try a Honey Fitz – 1 1/2 oz. aged rum, 3/4 oz. grapefruit juice, 3/4 oz. honey syrup, and 2 dashes Peychaud’s. I make them every Christmas.

    • December 26, 2013 11:28am
      David Lebovitz

      David & Sam: I have something called Creole Bitters, made by Berg & Hauck (The Bitter Truth) that I think is meant to be very similar to Peychauds, and I use that in its place.

  • Charles Curran
    December 24, 2013 6:49pm

    Sam. Also for a ‘Muddled Old Fashion. A little sugar, some Peychauds, a cherry and a slice of orange. Muddle all of this, and then add some club soda. End with your favorite Bourbon..Lots of Bourbon.

  • Elle
    December 24, 2013 9:20pm

    Off topic, but am looking for that SF Christmas radio station online you mentioned a couple years ago – can anyone tell me which one it was? Thx!

    • December 24, 2013 9:59pm
      David Lebovitz

      It’s called Xmas in Frisko and is on SomaFM, which you can find by using those search terms – enjoy!

  • Elle
    December 24, 2013 11:55pm

    Thanks so much! also, the light, colors and composition in that 4th photo are gorgeous, well done!

  • tunie
    December 25, 2013 12:18am

    Just heard your interview on The Splendid Table! Your chocolate cherry fruitcake sounds amazing!

  • Kelly
    December 25, 2013 8:45am

    Happy Holidays to you David. I loved this post, especially the photos. Your blog is the only one I read. Always interesting and humorous. Thank you so very much!

  • Katie
    December 26, 2013 5:54am

    Hope you have a happy birthday David — isn’t it the day after Christmas?

  • Keren
    December 27, 2013 7:14am

    Loved the photos in this post. They are just divine. When are you going to do food and photography tours? Next time you pop over to La Maison, and if you like Negronis, maybe ask for a taste of Antica Formula Vermouth if they carry it. It is really a great vermouth to have on hand for Negronis.

  • Walter
    January 5, 2014 2:02pm

    I heard those special “coupe à Champagne” glasses were modeled after David’s pectorals.