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Quebec, a land of many tastes | Episode 3: Forests of flavour

Interviews

Quebec, a land of many tastes | Episode 3: Forests of flavour

What does a meadow, a river or forest taste like? That’s a prickly question. One we boldly try to answer by exploring the province in the hopes of discovering Quebec’s taste profile, a bit like a large herbarium of flavours and aromas.

Published on September 27, 2023

In this third and final episode, entrepreneur and forager Ariane Paré-Le Gal heads over to her favourite “flavour lab” to meet up with Émilie Patry, head of marketing and communications at Domaine Lafrance, and David Soucy, consummate woodsman and co-founder of Distillerie Mitis.

An apple day

At dawn, Cueillir la forêt author and co-owner of Gourmet Sauvage Ariane Paré-Le Gal had a date with the forest. First stop: Domaine Lafrance in Saint-Joseph-du-Lac, where she met up with Émilie Patry, one of the passionate powerhouses behind the fabulous establishment that’s home to an orchard, a cider house, a distillery, a vineyard, and a bistro. With more than 13,000 apple trees and some 20 varieties, Domaine Lafrance produces no less than 30 ciders and spirits—a record for apple-based distilled beverages. 

Local vermouth

Amongst Domaine Lafrance’s iconic beverages is Rouge Gorge, a product that proudly bears the Origine Québec label and is crafted from cider and apple brandy. Once considered a medicinal libation, vermouth (from the German wermut, meaning absinth) is traditionally distilled using fortified wine. Made from a maceration of more than 100 herbs and spices—including northern wormwood—Rouge Gorge sets itself apart from its Old World counterparts without ever sacrificing on originality or moxie.

“We’ve reinvented a classic. We wanted to provide people with something they’ve never had before—something that can only be found in Quebec. We wanted to prove that we could deliver a high-quality product with unique herbs and aromatics and achieve the same degree of perfection, despite our four-season climate.”

 

- Émilie Patry, Domaine Lafrance

Available in red and white iterations, Rouge Gorge is no stranger to vermouth’s recent uptick in popularity. Émilie noted, “People are putting it in sangria, negronis and martinis as a way to elevate and add depth to their beverages.”  

Domaine Lafrance’s slogan, “From the Earth to the bottle,” is also a promise. “The richness of this land is reflected in everything we produce,” Émilie shared. “We’re insanely lucky to have access to a natural water source on the property and in the forest—and to be able to use it in our beverages. Everything we need is here. Talk about a circular economy!”

A big bouquet

The forests of Quebec abound with plants and aromatics. But with so much to choose from, where do you start, and how do you find the perfect mix? Émilie admits that it’s no straightforward task. “We begin with the classics, then we experiment, taste, and test. Some ingredients are delicious together and others definitely aren’t. What we do is like the work of a perfumer!” For the task, they imported a still from Bordeaux that was specially designed for distilling fruit—at Domaine Lafrance, staying as true as possible to the flavours of fresh fruit is paramount.

Root and branch

The still is central to the process that Distillerie Mitis uses to produce their exceptional forest gin Mugo. “I consider myself a flavour creator,” said master blender David Soucy. “You’ll find a lot of products on the shelves that use and mix essences. We’re an essence-free distillery, so we make a conscious effort to bring out the taste of our ingredients. The still is our secret weapon.” Trained as a forest engineer, David has always been deeply fond of our forests and its aromas. “This is the root of what I want to bring to our product offering. I work with the forest to provide the Distillerie Mitis experience through every single bottle. My background in forest engineering means I know the precise moment to gather my pine so that it comes out exactly as I want it to when I distill it.”

The forest in a bottle

When the distillery set up shop in 2016, gin production was already in the cards. “We told ourselves that when the time came to create our gin, we’d use local aromatics!” recounted David, who wanted to craft a boreal gin that would both respect tradition and surprise tasters.

“We handpicked 12 aromatics for pre-maceration trials, and the big winner was the mountain pine from Jardins de Métis. And that’s when the party started. We incorporated another eight aromatics that infused the spirit with the flavours of Gaspésie—including dune pepper and angelica root—to create the Mugo gin that people know and love.”

 

- David Soucy, Distillerie Mitis

Wild passion

But to return to our original query, what does a forest taste like? Émilie’s response was disarmingly simple: “If I had a glass of Rouge Gorge in hand, I’d say ‘this!’ When walking through the forest, you may stop and think, ‘Wow, I don’t know what that is, but it smells amazing!’ Then, 500 metres on, it’s a completely different fragrance that dominates. What we have here is a blend of all that—an entire forest in a glass!”  

Sourcing and capturing the flavours of the forest is exactly what guides these three artisans of the wilderness. “There’s a complexity in this creative process,” confided Ariane. “You’re basically dancing with flavour, getting up close and personal with the plant and really trying to understand it. Developing the essence of sweet clover took us four years. When we thought we had captured it, we would make another batch and discover something new. That’s what’s so complex about working with nature in general, and even more so with the wilderness. We have to stay humble when it comes to raw materials and the transformative process that lies ahead—then be ready for surprises. Sometimes small miracles happen, but there are failures too, and they’re all part of the learning process.” So, you’re never truly “out of the woods”—but in a good way!

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