Alcools Vivant stands out for its uncompromising and virtuous approach to the world of spirits. Its whiskies, cognacs, gins and other rums (two references, Gino and Lola) are made from organic raw materials, socially responsible, fair trade labeled, the reductions are slow, additives are banned, the aging barrels are taken from sustainable forests, the bottles are made from 70% recycled glass … Rumporter went to meet its founder David Mimoum, scouting for the most virtuous practices in the world of spirits.
Alcools Vivant, a name that raises questions for a company that produces spirits. One immediately thinks of fields free of synthetic pesticides where the life of the soil has regained its rights, of plants in good health and the people who care for them.
There is all of this at Alcools Vivant, but there is also much more because its founder, David Mimoun, has made his company as virtuous as possible, from the field to the bottle.
So we met the man who wants to put life back in the center of spirits, first over the phone and then in person at cellarman-philosopher, Bruno Quenioux (Philovino in Paris’s 9th arrondissement), a staunch supporter of so-called “natural” wines and, by extension, spirits in the same vein.
The goal? To see how far this desire to produce the most virtuous spirits possible goes.
The adventure starts with cognac
There is a bridge (made of recycled wood) between wine and living spirits since, in another life, David Mimoun, originally from Bordeaux, comes professionally from wine. About ten years ago, he moved to the Charentes, land of spirits (even if they are made from wines).
“As a lover of organic, fluid and light wines, I didn’t know much about spirits but I had a rather negative image of them with heavy, industrial, conventional products,” says the forty-year-old. But an encounter with Jean-François Decroix, a winegrower and producer of cognacs unlike any other, changed my perspective..” Jean-François Decroix has been running his business organically and in mixed farming since the 1970s. A rarity in the Cognac region.
David tastes his products and discovers that spirits can be light and aromatic. Before, his very high quality organic cognacs were sold to traders and blended with conventional eaux-de-vie, but David Mimoun persuaded Jean-François Decroix to develop his organic cognac stock under his own brand, Decroix.
“I began by learning the trade for two years at Jean-François Decroix’s Brossac cooperative cellar, and then the two of us began, ” recalls David Mimoun.
“We do everything as a team. After that came the other liquors: whiskey, malt brandy, gin… and rum.”
Organic spirits, without additives
“Wheat and barley for the whiskies, grapes for the cognac, juniper berries or elderberries for the gin but also the aromatic herbs (sage, coriander…) are bought from local farms if possible and necessarily in biodynamic agriculture.”
Each spirit goes through a Stupfler still or a Charentais still. And to protect the identity of each spirit, no additives are added after distillation: so no sugar, caramel, glycerol or liquid wood. David Mimoun, who resists all standardization and the norms imposed on certain foreign markets, is not aiming at export but only at the French market.
This non-standardization goes a long way because batches of the same product can have slight differences. For example, a wine merchant in the Charentes region and another in Paris will not necessarily have exactly the same version of Silène, the single malt whisky of the range.
“The cellar master blends juices that have aged differently, that have been distilled differently,” explains David Mimoun. “But we always look for the same framework: finesse, lightness… our spirits are sometimes called ‘feminine’, it suits us very well because when we don’t use caramel and other woody notes, we’re working on subtle products.”
Rums made from panela bread
And where are the rums in all of this? Vivant is once again charting an outlandish path. The first rum in the range, Gino (no it’s not a gin!) is indeed produced from… dehydrated cane juice using the panela method in Peru.
“They press the cane and they put the pure cane juice to heat in the sun or in a cauldron at low temperature. This allows them to make sugar loaves that they can then ship,” reveals David Mimoun. “Then in Charentes, we rehydrate the loaves which become cane juice again, we ferment it and we distill it in a Stupfler still or a Charentais still”.
The rum comes out at 75% ABV and then goes through a reduction period that lasts between 3 and 12 months, knowing that the rums from the Stupfler and the Charentais are blended. For Gino, the aging lasts from 2.5 to 3 years in barrels of 250 and 300 liters with acacia, oak, and chestnut wood. For the second rum, Lola, molasses from Paraguay and panela sugar loaves were used while acacia is the dominant wood in the barrels.
“We refuse to have our spirits aged in barrels that have been created from wood that has been cut and replanted with industrial softwoods,” adds David Mimoun. “These are damaging the biodiversity because they acidify the soil. We want the same species to be replanted. Our supplier guarantees us traceability at the plot level.” Virtue, when you hold us…
And what about the carbon footprint in all of this?
But, as players, we tease our man a little and question him if it is really reasonable to bring raw materials from such a long distance away (hello, carbon footprint), from countries whose standards, particularly social norms, are worse than in France.
“You’re right, in fact we’re going to repatriate our raw materials under sail from next year, and Vivant agrees to pay higher prices for its raw materials, even if it means cutting its margins,” David Mimoun replies. And our man adds that even the cork of the stoppers is organic, that the trees which produced them were respected (8 years between each harvest…) or that the stoppers are not sealed.
“It is important to know that natural cork can sometimes create white spirits a little. But as this has no impact on the taste, it is not a problem for us. We must accept the variability of the living”, explains David Mimoun. We are affected but not yet totally sunk so we try again with the bottles.
This is not very ecological, glass bottles are energy consuming, heavy and therefore emit CO2! “Our bottles are produced from 70% recycled glass. The 30% of new glass is produced from silica which comes from a quarry near Fontainebleau. It is true that it is a retreat from nature, but it is not a place where life may be found.”, David Mimoun answers us benignly.
And to shut us up, he tells us that Vivant is working on setting up bottle deposits. The customer will just have to bring it back to his wine shop and then they will win a packet of seeds to plant. Vivant will then collect, repatriate, clean, and reuse the bottles.
Organic is becoming part of the landscape
“Organic remains a minority in spirits, and when there is organic, it is frequently a marketing positioning, and that’s why I emphasize that the goal is to obtain final products (cognac, whiskies, gins, rums…) that have not contaminated the planet during their manufacturing process,” David Mimoun says. “People laughed at me when I first started making organic cognacs a few years ago. Even if we are still in the minority, the world of spirits is opening up to ecologically and socially responsible products…”
Soon an ultra premium white rum?
At this point, we just had to ask him what new products he was preparing for us in the coming months. What we did: “We could make white rums but we are not yet sure about the possibility of selling a white rum at 50 euros. We would like to very much and we know that there are superb things which are made in the Antilles (Longueteau, La Perle…) but it is in discussion. After that, everything will depend on the raw materials, the products we discover.” To be continued…