Culturally Catalan Single Malt: New Whiskies from Distillerie La Canya

Published on 12 February 2024 at 14:58

This was my first distillery visit carried out entirely in French! That does mean I didn’t take as many notes - there were times I didn’t understand or was too busy focusing on the next sentence to write down what I heard. This blog is less than half the length of my last, but I hope you still enjoy it!


From Argelès-sur-Mer, I walked the 3km out to La Canya. I’d highly recommend it - you get great views of the Pyrenees just to the south, and walk through nice countryside.


Brothers Johann and Jérôme started La Canya as a brewery in 2017, and distilling commenced in 2020. Along with Véronique, it's just three running La Canya. Whisky accounts for roughly ⅕ of La Canya’s overall output, though they didn’t have a precise figure to hand. Their output equates to 8 barrels per year at the moment, so roughly 1100 to 1700 LPA. 


That said, spirits have become a growing priority recently he says, and the current goal at La Canya is to double production each year if possible. Their hand-toasted casks from Gaillac are presenting some issues at the current low quantities, as they are all quite unique. 


Distillery Details

  • 240L Holstein still 
  • Double distillation 
  • 3 plates used in the attached column


I can see Chateau malt bags from Belgium around the distillery. Jerome explains that they use 3 plates of the column on the Holstein to help smooth their malt without stripping out all the character. They ferment for 7 to 10 days and age for 40-46 months. 

This age is set as a minimum (above the true legal minimum of 36 months) because all La Canya’s casks are 300L. Whisky ages more slowly in larger casks, so Jerome’s choice to set a higher minimum age should help ensure that La Canya whiskies aren’t underaged.



La Canya has a very nice bar for visitors, stocked with all their beers as well. I note that they keep bottles of whisky in the fridge for visitors - a smart move this far south! Even in late September, it's plenty hot down here by the Med. I’m not a big fan of the tasting glass shape, but that’s just me. 


The name for their whisky - Seixanta 6 - refers to 66, the department code for the Pyrénées Orientales, in Catalan.


The Vermell is 41%, ageing for 40 months in a Rivesaltes vin doux cask. It  has a distinct caramel aroma, and tastes almost like a sherry cask whisky. The longer finish is lovely. 


The Orri is a 43% single malt which gets 18 months’ ageing in new French oak casks from Gaillac before moving into ex-whisky barrels. Not sure which kind of whisky, but supposedly these are also French oak. Jerome suggests I try this first, as the flavour is more dry than the others. 


Right away, you can tell it's young! It’s definitely not too sweet and has a spicy kick. Not too rich. Some vanilla comes through alongside a throatiness (if that word makes sense). It seems strangely bland for new french oak, but then I notice that the bottle I’m tasting was almost empty. The Orri certainly wasn’t at its best after sitting around so long in a near-empty bottle, sadly. 


I got a sample from a white Bordeaux wine cask which still has a sour note of white wine on the nose. 


You can get the two 25cl bottles for €52, though La Canya bottles are only sold in the local area at present. Hopefully EuroWhisky can change that in future! 


A third whisky produced pour Noël, the Auró, involved taking Orri whisky and then finishing it in an ex-maple syrup cask (which in turn used to be a bourbon cask before that). I always wonder how much maple flavour would actually come across in this instance, and suspect it would be a disappointingly low amount. Auró means maple in Catalan


However, he anticipates this, and explains that something else happened here. All the sugar got into the wood more than the maple aroma, which makes sense. Storing something so hydrophilic in a wooden barrel, it would all pull itself into the wet wood strongly. When they then filled the cask with whisky, the sugar all re-released into the spirit. 


You end up with sweetness and some mustiness, but not really the classic maple syrup flavour you’d expect, like a shadow of what the barrel used to contain


The plan is to end up with a core range of 5 drams, all produced from the same base of single malt. The range will be completed by a peated malt due for release in 2026. 


Catalan Surroundings

Are La Canya making Catalan whisky or French whisky? Quevall Licors are making the first whisky in Catalonia, only 25km away across the Franco-Spanish border. However, La Canya is located in Pyrénées-Orientales, a department which corresponds to the old county of Roussillon. Historically, this was a part of Catalonia. Locals still speak Catalan, especially this close to the border. Take a look at this photo I took a few hours later in Argeles!


La Canya is the first (and as far as I know, only) distillery making whisky in the Pyrénées-Orientales. They see themselves as culturally Catalan for sure, but also part of a wider French whisky region in the south. For example, they are aware of Distillerie Castan, the makers of farm to bottle Vilanova whisky. Located further north near Albi, Castan uses Occitan malt to make whisky and the Occitan cross is prominent in their branding. 

One underrated thing about La Canya is where it sits in this Franco-Catalan landscape. I took these photos all on the way back from the distillery, passing olive groves, prickly pear, and carpets of sweet alyssum. The casks at La Canya are certainly breathing in some aromatic air.


‘Is there some kind of whisky region developing, between here and the producers of southern France?’ I ask Jérôme. Most distillers don’t respond positively to such questions, but to my surprise he says yes, there is some sort of Occitan or Catalan region (or microregion) already developing.


Between the two distilleries, there may be a combined whisky occitan appearing in future… Twelve, Castan, and Bows have already made such a bottling together. 


Keep an eye out for more in the future, from La Canya and others across southern France. If you’re down by the sea for a holiday in Perpignan, then check out these Catalan distillers and their tasty drams!

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