July 2018 Whisky of the Month:
It sure feels like we’re a lot older given how much we’ve achieved in four short years, growing to one of the biggest groups of whisky drinkers in the world – you’d easily be forgiven for thinking we’re more like 40 years old. But we’re still young and rapidly growing with plans for even more exciting whisky experiences in the works, not to mention many more direct partnerships with the world’s best distilleries to create official bottlings just for you.But enough reflection and on to the good stuff: what awesome celebratory creation do we have shipping to you next week?
It’s called Armorik Whisky de Bretagne Small Batch Single Malt Created Exclusively For The Whisky Club and it’s downright spectacular. What’s more, every Member receiving a bottle this month also goes into the draw to win an entire case of this liquid gold and a set of six cut crystal Whisky Club Glencairn Glasses, plus a further 24 lucky Members will win beautiful Armorik Glencairn Glassware, with a total prize value of $1,380.
What does it taste like? Imagine the most decadent crème brûlée or vanilla gâteux you’ve ever eaten, but in whisky form, with a decent helping of poached peaches, warming spice and toffee, and a beautiful subtle dryness that invites you to take another mouthful… and that only begins to describe it. Created by craft whisky superstars Armorik Distillery, on our invitation to showcase their very best work for our Club anniversary, the resulting small batch limited release is our super indulgent version of Club birthday cake and not to be missed.
Get all the juicy details straight from the man who crafted it especially for you in this video message from fifth generation Armorik owner and CEO David Roussier, and be sure to check out the usual info below along with the background of the skyrocketing success of France’s Whisky de Bretagne on the world whisky stage that Armorik pioneered. If there was ever a month to take a break from Scotch to visit the artisanal ‘pâtisserie of whiskymaking’, crafting a birthday cake malt was always going to be it, and even so they surpassed our high expectations of just how damn good this single malt is.
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 (see our full report in partnership with the Scotch Whisky Association here), consuming more Scotch per capita than any other country. Surprising, yes, given France’s wealth of wine, brandy, fruit liqueurs and cider, 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 rich history of distilling spirits, would have a go at making whisky themselves. Armed with the world’s biggest market in their own 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, Armorik Distillery, originally known as Distillerie Warenghem but more recently rebranded to reflect their singular focus on whisky rather than their original liqueur pursuits.
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 crèmes (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 reins 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 revolutionised Distillerie Warenghem was the creation of the first French whisky. Like any hardcore whisky fanatic, Gilles 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; and considering Armorik’s growing reputation as a superb malt whisky house, not to mention being awarded Best French Single Malt for two consecutive years now at the World Whisky Awards, that risk is paying off in spades and the whisky community is all the richer for it.
About Armorik Single Malt Whisky:
Like most small craft distilleries, quality is the main concern for the team at Armorik and their whisky is therefore fermented, distilled, matured and bottled at the distillery itself under the watchful eye of owner David Roussier. Click here to see David’s special message for the Club.
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. Armorik uses strictly French Non-GMO barley from the Champagne region, namely the Prestige, Sebastian and Beatrix varieties, malting is done in Belgium and it’s generally unpeated. Fermentation takes place over four days using two yeasts, one to generate fruity notes and the other for alcohol yield. As with all single malts, the wash undergoes a double distillation in copper pot stills, with Armorik using a very high cut point to preserve fruity esters. 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.
Armorik currently produces around 150,000 LAP/Year. In terms of output this makes it about 1.5 times larger than a distillery like Sullivans Cove in Tasmania but roughly 3.5 times smaller than a small Scottish enterprise like Benromach.
Armorik releases are generally matured in a mix of American oak ex-bourbon casks from Buffalo Trace and Heaven Hill, Spanish oak ex-Oloroso sherry casks from Bodega Jose Y Miguel Martin and locally sourced Breton oak, sourced in the local forests of Brittany through a partnership with the last remaining Breton cooper. 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 limited edition single casks – clearly another huge advantage of producing whisky in a country like France!
Our release this month is a little bit different from the typical Armorik release – created and bottled exclusively for the Club, it’s the first 100% American oak matured Armorik single malt in Australia. The selection and vatting of the casks was made to obtain a balance that showcases both the exceptional quality of Armorik’s rich, fruity distillate and the quality of the selected casks. Ten casks were used to create our release; one virgin American oak cask distilled in 2013 provides structure, five first fill ex-Jack Daniel’s American oak casks distilled in 2014 provide sweetness and smoothness, while four refilled American Oak ex-bourbon casks distilled in 2012 accentuate the distillate’s fruity notes.
Bottled at 46%ABV, un-chillfiltered and at natural colour, this is a stunningly moreish malt whisky that oozes confidence and shows just how good the rest of the world can be at making whisky.
$120 per bottle + $15 flat fee postage
Age on release:
A vatting of first fill American oak ex-Jack Daniel’s casks, virgin American oak casks and refilled American oak ex-bourbon casks.
Armorik quick facts
Place of origin: Armorik Distillery, formerly known as Distillerie Warenghem, Route de Guingamp, 22300 Lannion, France
Water source: Rest Avel
Number of stills: 1 wash and 1 spirit
Capacity: 400,000 litres of alcohol per annum (current output around 150,000l)
Colour: Golden yellow.
Nose: Elegant and intense with vanilla, peach and jasmine flowers.
Palate: Fresh and round with citrus and pear before opening to sweet vanilla, crème brulee and just a touch of coconut.
Finish: Warming spices with toffee, and a slight dryness that invites you to another sip.
Savoury: Mussels but without cream as the oiliness of the whisky is sufficient. Watch out for our Club recommendation on our Facebook Page next week as we show you how to make the most amazing ‘ecclade de moules’ smoked on pine needles near Whisky Club HQ.
Sweets: Crème brûlée of course, but not too sweet. Mmmm.