When learning of the Distillery Denoix and its managing director, Sylvie Denoix Vieillefosse, it’s hard to determine whether coincidence or circumstance is responsible for the company’s success. For example, her family has been distilling walnut spirits, Suprême de Noix, for two centuries. A coincidence or is it a bit of nominative determinism? Sylvie herself would probably say a blend of fate and hard work are responsible. She owns a liquoristirie, meaning she is liquor-maker. For Sylvie, it is more than creating a spirit, it is about transferring the right aromas and flavors with the most noble ingredients.
A family affair since 1839
The Denoix distillery is located at the heart of Brive-la-Gaillarde, a charming town at the Center of France. Pierre Lacoste founded the company in 1839, and was joined by Louis Denoix that same year. This venue very quickly made a strong identity for itself, through the promotion of traditionally distilling local fruits and nuts.
Since then, four generations have carried on the responsibility of upholding the Denoix name in the liqueur world. Their reputation stood the test of time through consistent work and quality of the Suprême de Noix. Beyond its anchorage in tradition and consistency, every generation tried to add its own flare to the Denoix heritage. These innovations include the Quinquinoix, a walnut aperitive, the Roc-Amadour liqueur, which is a recipe given to the distillery by local monks, and the cocoa liqueur, made from the maceration of cocoa beans. Sylvie Denoix Vieillefosse’s grand-father, Elie Denoix, even introduced a regional speciality, violet mustard, launching them into the food industry.
Sylvie Denoix started working at the distillery when she was only twenty-five years old, giving up her career as a nurse to join the family business. Her husband, Laurent Vieillefosse, who already worked with her father, helped induct her into the business when she first started. Her pride lies in the fact that she has been able to preserve her family’s legacy. Today, all of her efforts work towards maintaining and teaching others the knowledge they’ve gathered in the distillery business over the past hundreds of years.
A manufacturing process unchanged
The Suprême de Noix used to be consumed to soothe digestive problems and cholera, a technique developed in Europe centuries ago when monks were still producing spirits. Its recipe and manufacturing remain unaltered from its original, still crafted using Armagnac, a french Brandy.
It starts with walnuts, an abundant resource of the Brive region. Hand-picked while they’re still green at the beginning of every summer, they are then crushed and pressed. The juice collected is macerated in new oak barrels. The couple waits for five years until they can use the macerate for the distillation of the liqueur.
The copper cauldrons are period tools, still handled the 19th-century way: heated up with coals. The still’s seals are handmade with just flour and water. Even the sugar syrup is cooked on wood fire. The head distillers, Sylvie and Laurent, master the whole process by hand, sight, and nose. This way of distilling requires incredible skills and traditional knowledge only the owners know. “Our liqueurs are made the same way they were 180 years ago,” confided Sylvie Denoix.
The Suprême de Noix is a very surprising liqueur, well-balanced, yet every step of the tasting takes us to a new discovery. The nose is intense with notes of candied walnuts. On the palate, one can detect hints of chocolate, wood, and praline. The finish is a rich, complex, walnut flavor one can’t find elsewhere.
A challenge mastered with perfection
The craft distillery’s challenge of preserving the savoir-faire, is a well-oiled machine at this point. In fact, the company was one of the first distilleries to receive the French government label “Entreprise du patrimoine vivant”, meaning “living heritage company”, in 2007. It recognizes craft skills and manufacturing expertise of French businesses. When visiting the distillery and its tasting room, it’s easy to recognize the family’s effort to keep the heritage alive. Bottles from every generation are scattered around the room with decoration made from old advertisements and pictures of the distillery.