Sunday 4 December 2016

Tasting the Armorik range of French whisky with Le Baron Des Spirits

When starting this blog back in 2012, one of the goals was to try as many "world whiskies" as possible. At the time, I'd tried a few (Aussies, Japanese, Scotch/Irish/American of course), but wanted to expand my horizons as much as possible. Whilst it's probably fair to say I've managed to significantly expand those horizons (and now even have my own monthly magazine column on the topic of "New World Whiskies" in Malt & Spirits Magazine), the exploration never ends, and I'm always excited to try whiskies from previously undiscovered distilleries, or emerging whisky-producing nations.

(Sidenote: I love how in the world of whisky, many of the "new world" producers are actually "old world" wine producing regions - France, Italy, Germany etc...)

Enter Armorik whisky, from Warengheim Distillery in the north of Brittany, France. Whilst not a new distillery (having distilled their first whisky in 1983, and their first spirits in 1900),  their's was a distillery I'd only seen/tasted at the odd whisky show, but never really sat down and spent any time with. Hendy tried the Classic Single Malt at Dramnation's World Whisky Tour back in July this year, and so now it was my chance to get better acquainted...

On a trip back to Sydney a few months ago, the enterprising Jeremy from Le Baron Des Spirits was kind enough to take some time out and talk me through a tasting of the core range, on Sydney's foreshore. Drinking good whisky on a crisp, sunny winter's day with the beautiful Sydney harbour as your backdrop? There are worse ways to spend an afternoon.

Jeremy explained that he brought the brand to Australia 18 months earlier, and in that time made Australia the number 1 market for Armorik per capita. Not a bad effort! When you look at Jeremy's tireless efforts to market the brand in Australia (through tastings, whisky shows, social media and just generally being part of the 'whisky scene', not to mention his recent Australia-only special release), and then you consider that he's pretty much doing it himself (without the help of any PR firms), it's an impressive feat.

Back to the distillery though, Jeremy described Warengheim's 1983 move into whisky as a "do or die" move, and a big step up from their history of distilling whatever fruit they could acquire, via their mobile pot stills. Armorik itself was created in 1998, and whilst the distillery's output is still relatively small, it's made a big impact amongst whisky lovers in Australia in a short space of time.

Jeremy had brought 7 different drams for me to try, spanning the range of blends, "old" Armorik, "new" Armorik and even a Rye!

  • Breiz blended whisky 4yo (42% ABV)
  • Armorik Classic Single Malt 5yo (46% ABV)
  • Armorik Double Maturation 8yo (46% ABV)
  • Armorik Maître de Chai 8yo (46% ABV)
  • Armorik Millesime 2002 single cask #3260 13yo (55.5% ABV)
  • Armorik Dervenn 4yo (46% ABV)
  • Roof Rye Double Maturation 8yo (43% ABV)

Breiz blended whisky 4yo (42%), aged in virgin oak and containing 50% malt, this gave tropical passionfruit notes on the nose with a sweet and tropical palate. Not overly complex, but a smooth, enjoyable whisky.

Armorik Classic Single Malt 5yo (46%) had notes of paprika and dried mango, with both spice and caramel on the palate and a short to medium length finish.  A nice step up from the blend.

Armorik Double Maturation 8yo (46% ABV), which spent close to half its life in ex-Oloroso casks, showed notes of cigar smoke and Brazil nuts on the nose, and a much more rounded, complex palate than the Classic, with Bourbon sweetness balanced out with some fruit cake-like Sherry notes. A very enjoyable, sippable dram.

Armorik Maître de Chai 8yo (46% ABV), a vatting of two ex-Oloroso casks, and one of only 1,700 bottles worldwide, won "Best French Single Malt" at this year's World Whiskies Awards. With a light, fruity berry compote nose and berries mixed with cinnamon spice on the palate, it had a long, spice-led yet smooth finish.

Armorik Millesime 2002 single cask #3260 13yo (55.5% ABV) was the only single cask amongst the line-up, and also the most noticeably sherried, having undergone 9 years "finishing" in a 2nd fill ex-Oloroso cask. There was some matchheads and flint, along with a raspberry sweetness on the palate, and a long, sweet finish. Probably my equal favourite with the Dervenn.

Armorik Dervenn 4yo (46% ABV) was probably the most interesting release to me - not necessarily because of the whisky itself, but what it represents. Dervenn is the first release of the "new" Armorik - a new single malt spirit first distilled in 2012, developed by Jim Swan, and ultimately to form future Armoriks. This 4yo release (aged in virgin oak) showed floral notes on the nose, with passionfruit and papaya on the palate. At only 4yo, it was a testament to what good spirit and good wood can achieve.

Last up was the Roof Rye Double Maturation 8yo (43% ABV), the first French rye whisky, and a collaboration between a local bar owner and the distillery. The most interesting thing about this whisky is the maturation regime - which sees 6 years maturation take place at the distillery, before the whisky is transferred to Marseille where it undergoes a further 18-24 months (two summers) in heavily charred virgin oak casks, which are stored (two at a time) in small corrugated iron boxes - simulating the extreme heat you might experience under a corrugated roof. This one showed plenty of spice, but also leather, lemon and orange zest. Lovely stuff.

It was an absolute pleasure to try these whiskies, and to do so with Sydney harbour as our backdrop, whilst learning all about the distillery from Jeremy, was the icing on the cake. The Armorik range can be purchased in Australia from Le Baron Des Spirits, including a very limited 10yo ex-Sauternes cask bottled especially for Australia!

A big thanks must to to Jeremy and Le Baron Des Spirits for his hospitality, and a big apology must go out for the delay in getting this article up!


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