April 2016 Whisky of the Month:
Armorik Double Maturation Breton Single Malt shows us what happens when the French turn their legendary distilling skills to whisky. Join The Club now for exclusive access to more exciting drams like this each month and great member perks.
Country of Origin:
To the untrained eye Scotland is naturally seen to be whisky central, and while that’s certainly true in terms of production, what many don’t realise is that when it comes to consumption France is in fact the global epicentre of Scotch whisky culture, consuming more whisky per capita than any other country. Surprising, yes, given France’s wealth of wine, brandy, fruit liqueurs and cidre, but you see it’s all the fault of a little beetle. Back in the 1880s the phylloxera beetle devastated French vineyards, and within a few years wine and brandy had virtually disappeared from cellars everywhere. The canny Scots were quick to take advantage, and by the time the French industry recovered, Scotch whisky had replaced brandy as the preferred spirit of choice and still dominates to this day.
It comes as no surprise then that the French, given their long history of distilling spirits, would have a go at making whisky themselves. Armed with the world’s biggest market in their backyard, excellent barley (much of which makes its way across to Channel to Scotland’s distilleries anyway) and no shortage of stills, the only question is why it took them so long. Thus Brittany or Bretagne as the locals call it, the Celtic enclave on the beautiful North Western coast, has become France’s officially recognised whisky region. Sporting a similar climate to the west coast of Scotland but with a few more degrees °C, distilleries in the area include the decidedly Celtic sounding Glann Ar Mor and of course our subject for today, Distillerie Warenghem.
Distillerie Warenghem were the creators of the very first Breton Single Malt Whisky, Armorik. Armorkia is the ancient name for the part of Gaul between the Seine and Loire rivers, and includes the Brittany peninsula, and if you’re wondering why it sounds familiar, you must have been a fan of Asterix in your younger years: it’s the indomitable Gaul’s homeland.
At the end of the 19th century the Warenghem family decided to settle on Brittany’s Pink Granite Coast. Léon Warenghem, the patriarch, founded the distillery and released his first product, Elixir d’Armorique, a honey herbal liqueur still popular today. Leon’s son Henri took over in 1919 and developed the distillery with fruit liqueurs and cremes (mint, blackcurrant, and kirsch) until his son Paul-Henri took the helm in 1967, along with his associate Yves Leizour, a true Breton by birth. The partnership clearly worked in Yves’s favour because today the distillery remains in the Leizour family, with Gilles Leizour taking the reigns in 1983. At that point the distillery was getting close to bankruptcy, however ruin was avoided thanks to some cunning innovation from Gilles. The distillery successfully diversified their portfolio and introduced mead in 1984, apple brandy in 1992, apple wine in 1998 and beer in 2001.
But the idea that revolutionized Distillerie Warenghem was the creation of the first French whisky. Like any hardcore whisky fanatic, Giles was convinced that he could make a good whisky himself and so he ensconced himself in the laboratory, developing and releasing the WB – Whisky Breton in 1987. The results were good, inspiring him to invest in a whisky-dedicated distillery with two pot stills in 1992 and the release of Armorik, the first Breton single malt, followed in 1998. Armorik Millésime 2002, the first 10 year old single malt, was released four year later and in 2015 Breton Whisky was officially recognised as a geographical indication – with the same significance as Champagne or Bordeaux in wine terms. And so, as we’ve heard with so many stories of origin of other successful distilleries we’ve featured, a man with a vision took a daring risk that paid off, with Distillerie Warenghem now the leading French whisky producer.
About Armorik Single Malt Whisky
Like most small craft distilleries, quality is the main concern for the team at Distillerie Warenghem and Armorik is thus fermented, distilled, matured and bottled at the distillery itself under the watchful eye of distillery manager David Roussier.
The distillery’s water source is a 100m deep well called Rest Avel and unlike the rest of France, Brittany is on granite bedrock, not limestone. This makes the water slightly acidic and helps develop fruity aromas during fermentation. Distillerie Warenghem uses strictly French Non-GMO barley for its single malts, malting is done in Belgium and it is generally un-peated.
As with all single malts, the wash undergoes a double distillation in copper pot stills. The distillery currently produces around 100 000 LAP/Year. In terms of output this makes it about three times larger than a distillery like Sullivans Cove in Tasmania but five times smaller than a small Scottish enterprise like Benromach. The stills are based on the Scottish style but engineered in Cognac and they are one of the only distilleries in France with traditional Scottish style stills.
Although Armorik releases are generally matured in American oak ex-bourbon casks from Buffalo Trace and Heaven Hill and Spanish oak ex-oloroso sherry casks from Bodega Jose Y Miguel Martin, the Double Maturation release is unique in that it’s matured in Breton oak, sourced in the local forests of Bretagne through a partnership with the last remaining Breton cooper. Breton oak is very dense, even more so than American oak and therefore limits the impact of woody flavours and tannin while bringing a nice spiciness and natural sweetness to the whisky. The warehouse is also full of all sorts of casks used for French wines and spirits like Armagnac, Cognac, Sauternes etc. and these are usually bottled as single casks…another huge advantage of producing whisky in a country like France!
Armorik Double Maturation is bottled at 46%ABV, un-chillfiltered and at natural colour.
Age on release:
Initially matured for three to four years in locally sourced virgin Breton oak casks before a second three to four year maturation in Oloroso sherry casks.
Armorik quick facts
Place of origin: Distillerie Warenghem, Route de Guingamp, 22300 Lannion, France
Water source: Rest Avel
Number of stills: 1 wash still and 1spirit still
Capacity: 400,000 litres of alcohol per annum (current output around 100,000l)
Colour: Rose gold
Nose: Fruity and elegant, with beautiful notes of citrus and apple, all served with salted butter caramel
Palate: Very soft and round on the beginning, the complexity comes through with spices, light woodiness and ripe fruits. Good volume and creamy mouthfeel
Finish: Hints of heather honey come to the finish supported by warming malt and delightful marine notes
What could possibly be better than quintessentially Bretonnes crepes!