I really care about ecological impact. Also, it makes more sense to do something with local ingredients. If you claim to be Auvergnat, your raw materials should be Auvergnat too. It is the spirit of Distillerie Cérès.
In Auvergne, the hidden spirit of the volcanoes is always at work. It manifests especially in gastronomy; St. Nectaire cheese and Salers beef, for instance, are direct products of the region’s volcanic soil. Now one new company — Distillerie Cérès — is bringing yet another creation to light: gin. Unlike Britain, Auvergne has never been a gin country, but Distillerie Cérès — like the seismic energy that’s transformed the region’s terrain over millennia — is gradually changing the drinking landscape.
To learn more about Distillerie Cérès and its mission, I caught up with its founder Brice Noïnski.
A.D. Manns: When did you first start taking a professional interest in wine and spirits?
Brice Noïnski: Quite a while ago. I was still a student in business and marketing. It started with beer, actually. I have always liked wine, but it looked too hard to understand at that time (it’s still not simple). With my friends, we were going out a lot in pubs. We were curious about trying multiple types of beers. It was mostly Belgian beers, because in 2010 you couldn’t find much. That curiosity led me to learn about craft American beers. At that time, my brother lived in Montreal, so I discovered the craft beer movement before it was something important in Europe. One of my father’s cousins opened a brewery in Picherande, called Gaia. Meeting him made me want to try homebrewing.
At the same time, I started to really get into whisky. The same way I discovered beer, I tried a lot of whiskies. And so began my love for fine spirits.
From there I decided to work in beer and spirits. So, I left Clermont-Ferrand in 2015 to finished my studies in Bordeaux where I studied the wine and spirits business. This is because in France, if you want to learn about spirits and beer, you have to study wine. Everything revolves around it, especially in Bordeaux. And I started to really be interested in wine too! Actually, I am curious about everything you can drink or eat!
AM: Why did you decide to create Distillerie Cérès?
BN: After my studies, I started to work for La Maison du Whisky as a sales representative in Languedoc region. I was selling whisky, rums and other spirits to bars, restaurants, and retailers (cavistes mostly). La Maison du whisky was really my dream company. It sells a lot of geeky products. And I had the chance to met with a lot of people in the business industry. Actually, I liked my job more because of the products than the position. Curious as I am, I wanted to know more about how the products were made.
I was bored about being a sales rep and I wanted to go into production. So I passed the General Certificate in Distilling at the Institute in Brewing & Distilling (you can do it online fortunately) and I left La Maison du Whisky in 2020. Then I worked for a distillery in Burgundy where I was distilling pomaces and lees to make Marc de Bourgogne and Fine de Bourgogne. And after that I spent one year in Armagnac, where I was warehouse manager for Domaine Laballe. I supervised the distillation, aging, and blending of the Armagnac.
After eight years away from Auvergne, I really wanted to go back and live there. I missed my hometown, my family, and my friends. I also wanted to open my own distillery. And so, I decide to create Cérès, a Auvergnate distillery which produces spirits with organic and local ingredients. It’s something important for me because I really care about ecological impact. Also, it makes more sense to do something with local ingredients. If you claim to be Auvergnat, your raw materials should be Auvergnat too. It is the spirit of Distillerie Cérès.
AM: Why did you decide to set up your business in Veyre-Monton? What’s the best part about this area of Auvergne?
BN: I wanted something close to Clermont-Ferrand. It’s where I’m from and where I like to live. It is also a nice city: really dynamic but not too big. Nature is really close and you can quickly escape from the city to go anywhere in the wild. I think that’s also why I like this city: you are right in the middle of Auvergne region and right in the middle of France. You can go easily where you want (by car, as there are no good train connections).
It was a great opportunity to find a place in Veyre-Monton to settle my distillery. I am close to home, close to Clermont-Ferrand, close to clients. On a more practical side, I have access to my suppliers all around. They are all no more than 150 kilometres from me.
AM: What was most challenging about setting up your business?
BN: Everything…It’s a real rollercoaster. I started to work on the project alone. It was a bigger project at the beginning. I was looking for someone to help me: a partner or an investor. But I didn’t find someone that fit with the project so I decided to continue alone with a smaller project.
Then you’ve got to find a place and a bank to support you. You have to deal with the customs, because alcohol production is really controlled. And once you’ve got the keys of the place and the money from the loan, you take your business plan and realise, it’s not going to be exactly as you planned.
But despite all the above, it is still very satisfying to do all of it for yourself. That’s what I tell myself when it’s not going exactly when I thought: I still do it the way I want!
AM: Which variety of Cérès is your favourite and why?
BN: I do my products the way I like to drink them. I do liqueurs with the minimum of sugar because I don’t like it too sweet, and I want the real expression of the botanicals I put in it. It’s the same for the gin. Vibration and Caldeira are 2 different gins but, I like them both for different reasons: Vibration is lighter with a lot of freshness from the flowers and herbs that are inside, and Caldeira is stronger, more junipery.
I would say the Gentian liqueur is really something that I can drink all the time. As a long drink with sparkling water or tonic for an aperitif, or on ice as a digestif. And my gin of choice is Caldeira, because it is simply the type of gin I like the most.