Mapping the production of French spirits is Monsieur Baco’s main goal. However, promoting producers without spotlighting places where you can buy their spirits would be pointless. So, to avoid this pitfall, we are today focusing on one of the newest wine and spirit cellars in Lyon. When Gaëtan Costecalde chose to open his cellar l’Art des Choix, he also chose to promote local spirits, bartending and products from Ardèche, his birth land.
After spending 15 years working as a bartender at several prestigious institutions (Chef de bar at 5* Sofitel in Lyon, the palace Hôtel Royal in Evian, and at the Baràgones in Lyon among others), Gaëtan hanged up his apron to open his cellar L’Art des Choix.
Back to basics
Why ‘l’Art des Choix’?
“Because I come from Ardèche (l’Art des Choix is a pun, it means ‘The art of choice’ but sounds like ‘ardéchois’, the people living in Ardèche) that’s why! The idea was to present wine and products from my region and try to promote French and local spirits as far as possible. I wanted to find a work/personal life balance and, by opening this shop, I can carry on with my passion and present something a little bit different than the classic wine and spirit shop”.
As he sees it, the Covid epidemic acted like a big reset, forcing all of us to think about the way we consume things, especially on the local scale.
“The past 2 years have been very difficult because of the Covid, and I think we need to put craftmanship and our French heritage forward. There is also a rising trend that leads people to buy local and discover what is produced around them. With Covid, we became more aware of the resources we had in France and that we have to support our producers, distillers, and farmers. We also have a lot of independent bottlers in France and more than a hundred whisky distilleries”.
The choice of variety
On the shelves
Although l’Art des Choix is not one year-old yet, the shelves are already filled with about 700 products including 70 to 80 gins, 100 to 150 rums, 100 to 150 whiskies, some Cognacs, Armagnacs, Calvados, various spirits and more exotic spirits like Cachaça, Pisco or Mezcal. Since the shop brings the worlds of spirits and cocktails together you can count on a solid selection of liqueurs and bitters as well.
If the product range clearly leans towards spirits, it is also possible to buy some nice wines and aperitive products from Ardèche, and regions around Lyon (Beaujolais, Rhône…).
At L’Art des Choix, the customer’s senses are regularly solicited. Whether it is a sample of Gaëtan’s latest discoveries, or an informal tasting conducted by a producer stepping by Lyon, the occasions to taste and discover liquid treasures are plenty.
On top of sales, Gaëtan regularly organizes tastings presenting indigenous grapes from Ardèche and hands-on cocktails workshops where participants learn how to make cocktails.
“The cocktail workshops are designed for 4 to 10 people. The attendees make 3 different cocktails for 39€, which is a good price compared to the price of 3 cocktails in a bar. The idea is to learn how to make 3 classic cocktails. The first course is always about initiation and the goal is to be able to easily reproduce what you have learned at home. You can also book the 49€ option which includes a delicatessen and cheese buffet”.
It is also possible to come with specific requests.
“These are bespoke workshops. Either customers follow my lead or they ask me to teach them how to make their favorite cocktails”.
To carry on the experience at home, it is also possible to buy all the accessories needed to reproduce the cocktails learned during the workshop. L’Art des Choix is indeed the first wine and spirit cellar in Lyon to sell professional bartending tools to individual customers.
A vivid French offer
Between the old world (‘digestive drinks’, liqueurs…) and the new world (gin, rum, whisky, independent bottlers), France offers a unique playground. If rum and gin surf on a wave of popularity, thanks to attractive entry-level prices, old spirits like Cognac, Armagnac have been slowly coming back in the game these past years.
“We do have quite a diversity in France that allows us to advise our customers many different styles of spirits. We have some older spirits that are coming back on the forefront. Nowadays, young people are a bit more interested in Cognac or Armagnac than before. We have everything we need to strengthen that trend. It is our job, us who sell spirits, to endorse the role of ambassadors and promote these products to our customers. That being said, it is true that the trend is still fragile but thanks to producers who improve on packaging, these old spirits get a modern twist. The customers are changing as well and are looking for appealing designs and bottles. We need to nurture and respond to that need. The outcome is still far ahead but we are getting close, little by little. With 2 or 3 samples in our pockets, we can have them smell an Armagnac or a rum with a Cognac finish. The finishes are a good way to bring customers to try these less trendy spirits”.
Sweetness: a French tropism
From both the bartender’s and the seller’s perspective, Gaëtan points out the fact that the French customers have a certain tropism for sweet cocktails and spirits.
“Whether we are talking about pure tastings or cocktails, people are definitely looking for sweetness. I also see it in sales: Hispanic rums are more requested, just as sweet cocktails with red fruits in bars. On the opposite, in Britain, people drink much more Dry Martinis or Manhattans than us… while in Italy, they like Americano, Negroni… But in France we tend to drink sweeter. It is our role to drive customers into drinking differently. In many people’s minds, “Agricole” still means strong alcohol, something that burns your throat…”.
Could the importance of pastry in French gastronomy be the reason why we are used to drinking so sweet?
Gaëtan’s favourite bottles
“My greatest discovery in the last couple of years was Twelve, based in Laguiole in Aveyron. Their cask strength rums are always wonderful.
The timeless bottles, for me, wouldl come from Ferroni. Everytime they bottle demi-johns or cask strength rums, it is exceptional… I am currently drinking a Grand Arôme at home. Each time I put my nose above my glass, it is crazy. There are such a length and wide aromatic range… They bottle cask strength rums that never burn. You just lick your lips and you find an amazing aromatic depth with lots of details that pop here and there”.
“I like Ninkasi a lot on the local scale, especially their single casks that are fantastic. Then, if you want to go further, to me, Domaine des Hautes Glaces remains THE French whisky distillery. They grow their cereals on distinct parcels and the work is of a very high level. But the prices are of a higher level as well”.
“In Armagnac, I really love Armin. Their 6 years-old is going to be amazing in Armagnac tonic this summer and their 10 years-old is a treat”.
“Regarding gins, I work with local producers a lot. I have opened my shop about the same time as Distillerie du Rhône so we have a kind of connection. We work together a lot. I think they distillate very well and their products are great. I could also mention the gin from Distillerie Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc, l’Eau-des-vivants in Beaujolais and the Distillerie Vert de Coeur near Roanne as well. Their packaging are cool and they make some morel liqueur, 108 liqueur (with 108 herbs). They are really doing a nice job. I think they are among the distilleries that will have some success and will remain in the spirit landscape a while”.
“We have some products that always sell well such as Eyguebelle. Their ‘Coirons’ and their mandarin liqueur are there to stay as well and they bottle magnums. Charteuse is very famous in the region but they have small stocks. Eyguebelle’s Coiron is an interesting alternative, made with herbs from Ardèche on top of that!”
In a nutshell
L’Art des Choix is a new wine and spirit shop in the 6th district in Lyon. After 15 years spent working as a bartender in several prestigious institutions, Gaëtan decided to bring both worlds together opening a shop prioritizing French spirits and bartending accessories. L’Art des Choix also offers several workshops to learn how to make cocktails at home. But spirits are not the only products sold by Gaëtan. He indeed has developed a small range of wine and aperitive products from Ardèche, his birth region. Regarding the market trends, Gaëtan witnesses a momentum for local and French spirits and the slow come back of old spirits such as Cognac and Armagnac that are gaining popularity among the young customers. He also points out a curious French tropism for sweet alcohols and cocktails and highlights the education role bartenders and sales advisors need to carry on to bring their customers to new territories.