Review: Armorik Breton Single Malt French Whisky – Classic, Double Matured, Sherry Finish (2016)

armorik

It’s been five years since we last checked in with Armorik, a single malt whisky producer in Brittany, France. Its lineup has been radically revamped and updated, with numerous new expressions hitting the market in the intervening years. The 80 proof expression we reviewed in 2011 is no longer produced under that name, but you can still get it as “Armorik Original Edition” if you are interested.

Among the changes: a stronger use of sherry, locally-sourced wood, and, most notably, increasing the alcohol level to the current 92 proof (which is the abv at which all of the below are bottled). Today we look at three of the company’s expressions that are now available in the U.S. Thoughts follow.

Armorik Breton Single Malt Classic – A marriage of spirits aged in sherry and bourbon casks, representing a variety of ages. Herbal and slightly floral on the nose, with notes of flamed orange peel. On the palate, it offers a classic single malt composition — ample malt, honey and vanilla sweetness, roasted nuts, and a bit of cocoa. The finish is a touch astringent and youthful with some green notes, but approachable enough for an everyday dram. B / $50

Armorik Breton Single Malt Sherry Finish – While Armorik Classic is a blend of whiskies matured in either bourbon or sherry casks, all the whisky in Sherry Finish spends time in both — first bourbon casks, then sherry casks for a few months of finishing. This whisky doesn’t come across like your typical sherry finished spirit, offering caramel, barrel char, and coffee notes on the nose. The palate is a bit mushroomy, with overtones of charred bread, more barrel char, and a heavily malty finish. The sherry just doesn’t make much of an impact at all here, either because it doesn’t spend enough time in those barrels, or because they’re spent from too much reuse. B- / $60

Armorik Breton Single Malt Double Matured – A somewhat unique whisky, Double Matured starts not with bourbon casks but with casks made from wood cut from Brittany’s forests. After “many years” in these casks (used or new is not stated), the whisky is then transferred to sherry casks for finishing. Though there’s still no age statement, the whisky inside on average is likely a little older. Age comes across on the nose, which provides a more complex and intricate experience right away, with notes of cloves, menthol, and sherried fruit. The body is nuttier and richer than the Classic, with a heavier (but surprisingly balanced) wood component. The whisky finishes strong but doesn’t overpower, the ultimate impact being something of a hybrid of a single malt and an American whiskey. Interesting stuff, worth exploring. B+ / $60

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Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo San Francisco 2016

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The 17th annual Whiskies of the World event wrapped this March in San Francisco, and it was as fun and chaotic as ever to wander three stories of the San Francisco Belle paddleboat, moored in the San Francisco Bay.

This year I focused my attention primarily on independent bottlers of Scotch whiskies, with Alexander Murray and Gordon & MacPhail both in attendance, along with veterans like the Exclusive Malts and Chieftain’s collections. Also highly worthwhile: A new distillery, Mosswood, which ages light whiskey in a variety of oddball barrels to produce the most exotic and interesting “flavored” whiskey you’ve ever tried. As for my favorite spirit of the night? Arran’s delightful “Smugglers’ Illicit Stills” offering, which comes complete in a fake book (see photo).

Thoughts on everything sampled follow.

Scotch

Alexander Murray Bladnoch 25 Years Old – Notes of roasted nuts, grains, a touch of lychee / B
Alexander Murray Monumental Blended Scotch 30 Years Old – Very grainy — a surprise — notes of hay / B
Alexander Murray Speyside 40 Years Old – Quite gentle, malty, quiet citrus; surprising that this is 40 years old / A
The Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso – A bit overblown, with big toffee notes / B+
Aberlour Scapa Skiren – Simple; easygoing, with gentle grain structure / B+
Gordon & MacPhail Linkwood 15 Years Old – Big molasses notes, scorched caramel, nice stuff / A-
Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 25 Years Old – Ginger is fun, but granary notes surprise / B+
Gordon & MacPhail Old Pulteney 21 Years Old – Quite maritime, gentle peat and salt spray / A-
Lagavulin 12 Years Old – The classic; nothing new to report / B+
Lagavulin Distillers Edition Double Matured – Gorgeous, big mouthfeel and better balanced than the standard Lag 12 / A-
Glenmorangie Signet – Sweet chocolate notes, coffee, almost overblown with dessert notes / A-
The Balvenie 17 Years Old DoubleWood – Classic; light sherry, nougat, well balanced / A-
Macallan Rare Cask / Rounded and well sherried; still drinking lovely / A-
Chieftain’s Glen Grant 20 Years Old – Slightly racy, with heavy cereal notes / B
Chieftain’s Linkwood 17 Years Old – Chewy, with cherry notes, gentle finish / A-
Exclusive Malts Glenrothes 2002 – A big crowd pleaser, but it didn’t resonate with me; big cereal notes, yeasty, slightly astringent / B
Exclusive Malts Girvan 1988 Single Grain – Butterfinger candies, buttery body, surprising for a single grain / B+
Arran Amarone Finish – Starts off hot; leads to raisin and chocolate notes, a bit scattered / B+
Arran Smugglers’ Illicit Stills – Quietly spicy, with tons of malt, honey, and a touch of smoke; really compelling / A

022Bourbon

PlumpJack Wine & Spirits Eagle Rare – The first of five single barrel releases on tap from SF’s PlumpJack; big butterscotch notes, but quite woody / B
PlumpJack Wine & Spirits Four Roses Single Barrel OBSV 8 years, 8 months – Lovely, with some pepper to it / A-
PlumpJack Wine & Spirits Four Roses Single Barrel OBSO 10 years, 6 months – Lots of heat; a bit astringent; peppermint notes / B+
PlumpJack Wine & Spirits Four Roses Single Barrel OBSF 11 years, 7 months – Honeyed with baking spices and cinnamon / A-
PlumpJack Wine & Spirits Four Roses Single Barrel OESQ 10 years, 5 months – Popcorn and malt, rather plain / B
Healthy Spirits Old Scout 9 Years Old – Another private bottling; big caramel, chocolate, cinnamon… but a touch grainy / B+

Other

Brenne 10 Years Old – The 10 year old expression of this French malt; enduring grain, notes of gingersnaps / B+
J. Seeds Apple Cider Whiskey – Unpalatable, incredible bite / C-
Clyde May’s Alabama Style Whiskey Special Reserve 110 Proof – Lovely apple and caramel, with a drying finish / A-
Mosswood Apple Brandy Barrel Aged – Mosswood makes light whiskey and ages it in different barrels, giving it a really unique structure; this one has beautiful fruit, with gentle, cider-like character / A-
Mosswood Espresso Barrel Aged – Slightly smoky, earthy, and nutty – not the heavy coffee bomb you might expect / A-
Mosswood Umeshu Single Barrel Aged – An Asian plum wine barrel gives this a curious notes; on the palate the fruit really emerges alongside spice and a sweet backbone; quite a revelation in “flavored” whiskey / A
Germain-Robin Old Havana Brandy – A touch of tobacco, lingering raisin, very soft / A-
Germain-Robin Single Barrel Brandy – Bigger body, heavy raisin and spice elements / B+
Low Gap Wheat Whiskey 4 Years Old – Heavy pear notes, very fruity / B+
Roundstone Rye – 100% rye; youthful, earthy, mouth-filling / B-
Roundstone Rye 92 Proof – More rounded; heavy cloves / B+
Roundstone Rye Cask Proof – Aged in maple syrup casks and it shows; a bit cloying / B
Seven Stills of San Francisco Whipnose – 7 Stills makes whiskey from different styles of beer; this one’s an IPA base. Classic IPA notes add density and ample hops / B+
Seven Stills of San Francisco Fluxuate – Coffee porter base with a touch of espresso added on the back end; clear coffee notes, slight caramel; lingering coffee finish / A-
Seven Stills of San Francisco Dogpatch – Sour beer based, finished in a sour beer barrel. Some funk, a little cherry and raisin character; a bit crazy as whiskey goes. Need to spend more time with this one / B+

Review: Brenne French Single Malt Whiskey Barrel 261

Brenne French WhiskeyWe 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).

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Review: Bastille 1789 Blended French Whisky

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]


Review: Armorik Breton Single Malt French Whisky

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?

80 proof.

B+ / $50 / distillerie-warenghem.com