Glann Ar Mor, the Celtic connection
Jean Donnay had warned me on the phone that the Glann ar Mor distillery was out of the way but, armed with a GPS navigation system, I was confident I could find it. What I didn't know is that Pleubian, on the northern coast of Brittany, really is out of the way. The sat nav got me close but then decided it didn't know where the distillery was after all. It is only thanks to Google Maps on my phone that I managed to negotiate the criss crossing tracks on the final approach to the distillery.
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Glann ar Mor lies on a secluded and idyllic stretch of Breton coast, watched over by the picturesque lighthouse Heaux de Brehat. Its location presents problems for lorries delivering and collecting goods and Jean tells me that more than one driver has stranded himself on the lanes.
The still room has large windows looking out to the sea and these calm and serene surroundings, punctuated occasionally by the hisses and whirs of the distillation process, form an isolated but soothing back drop to the latest stage in Jean's life work.
it's this romantic notion of a man working largely in isolation, perfecting his craft late into the night which remains my abiding impression
He talks to me about distilling at night in the winter – the beam from the lighthouse glinting on the stills – and it's this romantic notion of a man working largely in isolation, perfecting his craft late into the night which remains my abiding impression of Jean Donnay. He has no aspiration to run a huge industrial facility, instead he is an old fashioned craftsman, an artisan creating small quantities of high quality and lovingly crafted whisky.
Jean had been working with whisky for many years before building Glann ar Mor – the name means “by the sea” in the Breton language – maturing Scottish whisky in casks from the French wine industry.
The obvious next step was to distil his own whisky. He experimented with a small, make shift still in 1999 but having completed the larger stills that are now the heart of the Glann ar Mor, the first spirit flowed at 5:06pm on June 12th 2005.
Three years later he began bottling the output and now produces two core expressions: Glann ar Mor, an unpeated whisky, and the peated Kornog – Breton for “the West Wind.”
Recognition where recognition is due
His experience finishing Scottish whisky in French casks had taught him invaluable lessons about how whisky behaved in the local climate and conditions in his warehouse. None the less, it must still have been a surprise to him that his young whisky and nascent skills as a distiller caused such a stir. Winning high scores and high praise from the Malt Maniacs and being championed by Serge Valentin – who stresses that it has nothing to do with French patriotism and everything to do with the quality of the dram – the whisky from Glann ar Mor has gained a reputation for being something very special. However Jean describes the distillery as the “slowest in the West”, and as a result only a handful of people have managed to taste it so far!
For those who want to know more about Glann ar Mor you can watch the film interview on this page. You can also follow Jean's Glann ar Mor profile where he will be happy to answer your questions and keep you up to date with new releases and developments at Glann ar Mor.