Interview: Frédéric Beigbeder Talks About Vodka Le Philtre (the filter)

Interview: Frédéric Beigbeder Talks About Vodka Le Philtre (the filter)

Le Philtre vodka imagined by Guillaume Rappeneau, Charles and Frédéric Beigbeder is a nectar in tune with his time —heady and innocent for the planet. Let’s meet with Frédéric Beigbeder.

Vodka Le Philtre: A Friendship and an Ode To The Preservation Of The Planet.

Vodka Le Philtre is the story of a trio. Two brothers and a childhood friend, epicureans, and revelers, in search of a nectar whose ecological ambition would not only be a marketing asset. Besides, the vodka Le Philtre doesn’t actually care about marketing. Besides, marketing, vodka Le Philtre doesn’t care!

It is distilled 6 times and bottled, in different bottles each time, in the Cognac region, but you might wonder why? “The transition glass that we use to create our bottles has a wide variety of shades: from Aigue Marine and Jade, to Turquoise, this bottle disobeys all marketing rules!” explain Guillaume Rappeneau, Charles and Frédéric Beigbeder.

Made from wheat organically produced and water from Gensac®, a water known for its high purity, Le Philtre vodka makes fun of chemical additives and sugar: its composition itself is sufficient to inebriate the senses. Refillable and entitled for deposit, the vodka Le Philtre is considered as a consumable product but above all a durable object.

The result? A vodka with slightly toasted notes that keeps on its silky structure of toasted almond and tonka bean when you taste it. The final milky and vanilla notes bring an innocent voluptuousness.

Meeting with Frédéric Beigbeder

To set the context for our readers, what is the history of the vodka Philtre? Frédéric Beigbeder, how did the idea come to you in the first place?

We were with my brother and a friend, Guillaume, drinking Caipiroska, that is to say a cocktail with vodka and lime, crushed ice, and a little sugar. We drank it on the beach of Guéthary and we noticed that the beach was shrinking…

That there’s less and less sand. Guillaume, who produced a documentary for Arte on the disappearance of sand, began to explain to us that if there was less sand, it is because this sand is used for glass bottles. So, there is less and less beach in the world because glass is not recycled.

And, as a matter of fact, the vodka bottles being made of white glass, they cannot be recycled glass. That’s when we said, “We want more beaches for our kids”, and we felt very guilty. So was born the idea of making a vodka that would be environmentally friendly. It took two years after that conversation to happen:

finding a distillery, tasting the proposals and all. It had to be a distillery that agreed to go organic because they actually wanted to. Two years later, in 2020 came out «le Philtre»: a French vodka, organic and 100% recycled. Not the vodka of course, but the bottle, which is made of recycled glass.

How was the collaboration with Maison Villevert? A very old house, founded in 1487, and anchored in the ancient tradition perhaps…

We were looking for distilleries that fit our crazy project. There were several, and then there was Villevert, a very old house, run by Jean-Sébastien Robiquet, with whom we had a very good understanding. I think he tested us a little bit at first: he wanted to see if we were really serious about it or not. We talked a lot about how we saw this product and why we absolutely wanted it to be organic and green. He wanted to make sure we weren’t just Parisians who wanted to be hip.

What do you like so much about vodka?

For me, it’s generational. I started going out in the ’80s when vodka was trending. There was the “Absolut” brand that was new.

A very creative brand, for which I also worked as a designer editor when I was in advertising. Then I got into the habit of drinking vodka when I was going out, and it never really changed.

My parents drank whisky instead and today’s young people are more like gin or rum. For my part, I completely stayed in my vodka stage,

and it is also a very literary alcohol, if I may say. Vodka is found in all literatures, especially Russian literature. I recently read Andrei Kurkov’s latest novel,The Grey Bees, about the war in Ukraine, because this war didn’t really start in February. It is a beautiful novel about the war in Ukraine, where the two main characters do not stop drinking vodka, it is an integral part of the environment.

The design of the bottle itself is intriguing and fascinating, almost like you are getting drunk just by looking at it. How did the idea of this design come about?

From the moment we found the name “Le Philtre” -which happens to be one of the oldest words in the French language and that means “a magical elixir that holds powers”- we had the idea to make a bottle that could look like a weird elixir, made by some sort of Merlin the Enchanter. We wanted to create an atmosphere between the pirate and the mage.

So, I started looking for ancient forms, hand-made ones. Then, gradually, we obtained this shape of bottle, a bit heavy that doesn’t look like anything industrial, like a Coca-Cola bottle for instance.

Well, one that melted in the sun maybe. It is true that when it comes to the alcohol, we already feel almost drunk by just seeing the bottle that isn’t that straight anymore.

Yes, indeed. Furthermore, what I like about it, is the fact that it is not symmetrical: we added bumps.
We worked on the design until the very last moment. We kept on changing our minds. The fact that it comes in different colors is jolly.

Basically, as I did advertising in the 80s and 90s – especially the 90s – I wanted to disobey all the rules I was taught at the time. If I ever made a product in my life, it would be the opposite of marketing!

What is your favorite cocktail with Le Philtre? And the ideal landscape and context to enjoy it?

It depends. Early in the evening, I like cocktails. Recently I met a lot of very talented bartenders, and I became quite an adept of Sour vodka, that is a mix of vodka, lime, and egg white. This is very nice.

Otherwise, I really like White Russian, so vodka that you can mix with milk and a little Amaretto.

There’s another one that I love but it’s very sugary, everything I share with you is actually very sugary. That’s why I especially say at the beginning of the evening. It’s called Frangelico, it’s made from the core of hazelnuts: that’s something to fall on the ground for…

Anyway, you must have a drink at dusk and then it is true that I rather continue with pure vodka and ice. Because, yes, I am very proud of «Le Filtre» and I think it is delicious. However, it is very dangerous because it goes down very quickly! I have often noticed that when you put the bottle on the table, it is empty but, like really very empty, so you have to be very careful!

According to you, is launching a product like a brand-new vodka a bit the same approach as launching a new novel, or is it a completely different approach?

I think it does look quite similar, because you have to think about a form, a title, you have to think about everything, it’s like an art object, but not really like a book, it would look more like a sculpture. An object that no one needs, which does not exist, but which must be invented.

From this perspective, there are common points with artistic expression, which is what I found most amusing. Just to imagine that we were going to make a vodka… At first, I wanted to call it “Filtre” just like that and my brother added “but no it’s better Le Filtre”, so we had a great conversation about the defined article, whether to keep “le” or not.

It gives a bit of majesty «Le Filtre», first it allowed to francize the name. If we just put «Filtre» it could be something else, for example a brand, whereas «Le Filtre» really sounds like a book’s title. It gives an additional Frenchy and literary aspect.

Finally, «The Philtre” is the perfect meeting point between ecology and the idea of hedonism behind it all. What exactly is the situation today with post-covid hedonism in 2022, in the middle of the presidential election and the war in Ukraine?

You know, there are really two schools there and I, myself am divided between the two.

The one that desires to curl up and stay locked up at home and depressed and not seeing anyone. I find it quite respectable when we are in the middle of the end of the world but at the same time, I also have an impulse for life and society. A part of it is the urge to go out, talk about revolution and partying.

Life has to go on, it must go on, so I’m constantly torn between these two moods. Still, I think the idea of festive ecology is very important, it’s an idea of the future, because if ecology continues to be moralizing and sermonizing it will stay at Yannick Jadot’s score so 4%, and that’s very critical, but I can see that the punitive ecology is not working.

It must be funny, entertaining, and hedonistic; we have to tell people that “you will live better by living healthy and especially by producing things differently, by producing and consuming non-industrial products, healthier products, made in the respect of the environment and it does not prevent laughing»!

«The Filtre», I believe is a good example, among many others fortunately! There are many people who have the same approach as Elon Musk, because when he made the new Tesla cars, he didn’t just create electric cars, he made beautiful, sexy cars that we want to drive and buy.

Today, most people who have Teslas have them because it’s statutory, because they are classy and beautiful. The interior design is gorgeous, and they don’t do it just to save the planet. So, I think that all companies should ask themselves this question «how to save nature but at the same time make sexy products? »

And a “green” candidate in the presidential election should also ask himself the question “how can I make my ecological discourse not boring nor sanctimonious?”

Interview made by Sassia Blanc