Distillerie Génestine was founded in Clermont-Ferrand in 1845…this company makes excellent products.
-from Le Monde Illustré, 14 July 1923
Resurrecting a historic company is hardly an easy task, but sommelier and entrepreneur Sébastien Jolivet was certainly up to the challenge. In 2021, after months of brainstorming, archival research, and discussions with advisers, he revived one of France’s most illustrious liqueur brands: Distillerie Génestine. Since then, the company — which produces limoncello, pastis, gentian, and other spirits — has scooped up myriad awards, including multiple medals at the 2023 World Drinks Awards. I caught up with Jolivet to learn more about how he is breathing new life into one of Clermont-Ferrand’s oldest and most legendary brands.
A.D. Manns: What was the most challenging part about resurrecting the Distillerie Génestine brand? Do you have a connection to the original family?
Sébastien Jolivet: The most challenging part was finding all the information about Distillerie Génestine’s past and its factory. We needed to dig up and search all the documents that were left by the previous owners. We had to go back over the facts in each invoice that we could find or buy on the internet.
We also went to a national library to find and trace a family tree of the owners who succeeded each other. We found out that the last owner, Philippe François (a fifth-generation member of the family) was still living in Clermont-Ferrand. Despite his age, he helped us by giving us some information about the brand and about the factory’s last years.
By the way, we even had an occasion to meet his sons Olivier and Marc François. We were able to discuss some points and even to get a certain blessing on their part for the awakening of this ancient brand. So it was really huge and interesting work to do. And we had time for it as it was during the time of lockdowns thanks to the coronavirus epidemic.
AM: Were you always interested in the liqueur business?
SJ: Yes, I have always been passionately interested in liqueurs and the process of their fabrication. I should say that I had worked for a huge society of wine sellers for thirteen years, so I had some experience in the commercial domain. Afterwards, I started my own business of selling wine and spirits. And at some point of development, I could not find a good spirit supplier so I decided to produce my own liqueurs. I was also encouraged by my father who has always been making his liqueurs at home for personal consumption and who was able to share with me his experience in this domain.
AM: Are all the ingredients for the liqueurs sourced from the Puy-de-Dôme region?
SJ: Most of our ingredients come from Puy-de-Dôme and France. The exception is lemons, which — of course — come from Sicily in Italy. We also use about eighty plants for our production and it is difficult to find all of them in our region so we need to buy them in the other regions of France.
AM: Which variety of Distillerie Génestine is your favourite?
SJ: It is difficult to answer this question; it is like you would ask a father which of his sons he prefers! All of them are my favourite, but I will tell you which product I think was the most challenging for me: gentian liqueur. It is a kind of a beverage that I was not familiar with. I took one year to search for and develop my recipe. I finally got it and now all of my clients and friends appreciate it as a unique and pure gentian liqueur that has never before existed in France.
AM: Which of Distillerie Génestine’s achievements are you most proud of?
SJ: I am proud of all the achievements that we have worked for: searching about Génestine’s history, working on the products and their recipes, finding the clients to sell to. Although the last part was not really difficult, as I seldom meet someone who doesn’t like our products. It is not really modest to say so, but it is true. Most people really like them.