We so rarely get to check out the whiskeys of France that when one arrives it’s always greeted with a bit of mystery and awe.
Even among French whiskeys, Brenne is something completely unique. It starts as single malt, with barley harvested on the distillery’s own farm in the Cognac region of France. It is double distilled in alembic stills, then aged first in new French limousin oak, before being finished in ex-Cognac barrels. No age statement, but the company says the typical bottle is 7 years old — 5 years in new oak, 2 in the Cognac barrels.
Brenne’s releases are all single-barrel releases, and while I have just sampled one — barrel 261 — they are said to vary widely from one barrel to the next (in part owing to the variations amongst the Cognac finishing casks).
This isn’t our first encounter with French whisky (see also Armorik, here), although it claims to be the “first hand-crafted whisky from France.”
Compared to the Armorik, Bastille 1789 (the year of the French Revolution, in case your history is rusty) is a world away. Crafted in the Cognac region on the western border of the country, it is stylistically closer to Irish whiskey than anything else, where it is distilled from barley and wheat, then aged for five to seven years in a combination of French oak, cherry wood, and acacia wood casks.
Lush with cinnamon notes, this fruity, spicy whisky offers a character not dissimilar to a Bit o’ Honey candy, lightly sweet but with a distinctly chewy honey character underneath. Those spices — not just cinnamon but dried ginger and a little sage — are quite strong and lengthy, all leading up to a cherry-inflected finish. Quite a light, lovely, and unexpected whisky, and well worth the price.
Launching this month.
A- / $30 / bastillewhisky.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]
Cognac may be the national spirit of France, but doggone it, the Gauls make whisky, too. Single malt whisky, and a pretty good one at that, courtesy of Armorik, a distillery located in Brittany, on the far northwestern tip of the country, wedged between the English Channel to the north and the Bay of Biscay to the south.
Armorik is made very much in the style of single malt Scotch: French malted barley is double-distilled in copper stills, aged in ex-Bourbon and some refill Sherry casks, and bottled at 80 proof after cutting with local water. No age statement is offered, but it’s obviously on the young side.
That’s not a slam, because Armorik is very fresh and lively, offering honey, apple, malty bread, and nougat notes atop a smooth and silky core. If I didn’t know better I’d swear this was a Scottish malt, touched with a bit of smokiness (is there peat in Brittany?) and seaweed/iodine notes that blow in from aging in warehouses surrounded by the sea. The finish is where things start to get a little rocky, and Armorik’s youth becomes evident: The notes of young whiskey, with bigger raw grain underpinnings than a more mature spirit would reveal. It’s forgivable considering the uniqueness of this spirit — and the bets you’ll be able to win with your whisky nerd friends should you obtain a bottle — but I’d love to see what another 4 to 5 years in cask, or, perhaps, a Port or Sauternes finish, would do to this very intriguing malt. How could the French complain about a wine barrel finish, anyway?
B+ / $50 / distillerie-warenghem.com