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Introduction to French Whisky

French whisky flag  © Heavenly Spirits 2016

"French whisky?" you ask. Mais oui! As of now there are 36 distilleries in France (and counting!) and 8 independent bottlers making 100% French whiskies, and bringing 60 brands to the market. 750,000 bottles of French whisky are sold per year. The first distillery to begin distilling French whisky over a quarter century ago is Warenghem in Brittany. Armorik is the pioneer and leader in the production of French Single Malts. Born on Celtic ground in Brittany, the original “Oui” dram is also the most awarded French Single Malt in the US.

 

There is currently no legal definition for French whisky in general, although Brittany and Alsace were granted an IGP for their respective regions back in 2015.

 

In January of this year, the Federation du Whisky de France was founded. Headed by Christophe Dupic as President and whisky guru, Philippe Juge as Director. The objective of the foundation is to define and regulate the category, fight against counterfeit ("Made in France" on the label sells!), and promote French whiskies.

Heavenly Spirits whiskies of France region map, including Armorik Single Malts from Brittany and Rozelieures Single Malts from Lorraine

Heavenly Spirits' is proud to offer some of the best, most innovative French whiskies, typified by the first single malt produced in France, Armorik, a range full of the Breton influence, which shares many characteristics to its whisky cousins in the Celtic isles.

  

France is the world's largest consumer of whisky, drinking an average 2.15 liters of the beloved brown spirit per adult per year. In comparison, "in the US, the home of Bourbon, they only drink 1.44 litres of whisky per person each year and in Britain it's 1.25 litres per person, ever so slightly ahead of the Irish on 1.24 litres per person." France is the biggest consumer of blended Scotch whiskies in the world, led by Johnny Walker, Ballantines and Chivas. Also worth noting, Aberlour is the #1 Scotch Single Malt sold in France. 30% of all spirits sold in France are whiskies.

 

Armorik Breton Single Malt Whisky

The Original "Oui" Dram

Warenghem Armorik Single Malt Whisky Breton Distillery

The Warenghem distillery located in Lannion, Brittany has been making high quality liqueurs and spirits for over 100 years. In 1900, Leon Warenghem founded the distillery and created his first product, the Elixir d’Armorique, a distillate of 35 plants which won awards at international exhibitions in 1902. Since then, the distillery has created a small range of unusual fruit and plant based liqueurs, honey liqueurs, apple brandy, beers and whiskies.

 

In 1967, Leon’s grandson Paul-Henry and his business partner, Yves Leizour moved the distillery from the town center to the outskirts of Lannion to be closer to the spring, Rest Avel.

 

Yves’ son, Gilles carried on the distillery’s innovative spirit, by creating a blended whisky in 1987, then in 1998, France’s first single malt whisky: Armorik. Warenghem was the first and only distillery to ever produce double distilled whisky in France and today it remains the most renowned.  

Today the distillery is overseen by Gilles’ son-in-law, David Roussier, keeping the Breton tradition of distilling in the family. They continue to innovate, including the recent release of the first single malt whisky finished in Armagnac casks (from the oldest Armagnac house, Dartigalongue), currently only available on the U.S. market. 

 

 

Video: French Whisky Makers Take on the Competition.

Map of Brittany, France - home of Armorik Single Malt French Whiskies

The grain: 100% French malted barley


The environment: the soil is mostly granitic, the air is very iodized (the sea is less than 6 miles away) and the weather is as rainy and windy as in the Scottish Highlands but overall warmer, which favors the ageing of the whisky. The humidity level is the same as in the Highlands.


The water: the distillery sits on a water source by the name of Rest Avel (it means the house of wind) which gives a pure and crystal clear granitic water.

 

The distillation: double distillation in traditional copper pot stills.


The ageing: Armorik is the result of a unique ageing method, using a majority of refill bourbon casks made of American white oak and some refill sherry butts made of Spanish oak. 

Tasting Notes

Armorik Single Malt French Classic Whisky

Cornerstone of the range, Armorik Classic brings together the best of the warehouse in a very accomplished edition.

 

Marriage of sherry and bourbon casks of different ages, it highlights the quality of aging on the Brittany coast and the expertise of the master blender.

 

This Armorik Classic is presented in an un-chill filtered edition, exalting its aromas.

 

 

Aroma: light floral notes with a touch of citrus in the end                       

Palate: soft and honeyed, lightly spicy, all wrapped up in a balanced and complex wood finish dotted with a citrus note.          

Finish: lightly smokey and pleasantly peaty.

 

REVIEWS

Finalist. 94 points

"Echoing the classic malts of Speyside and Highland, the nose is at once honey-tinged with a cereal sweetness with toffee, smoke, and citrus bringing up the rear. Round, fruity, and spicy, smoke builds on the finish with a hint of cool sea breeze."

Ultimate Spirits Challenge, 2017

 

"Gold Medal"

San Francisco World Spirits Competition, 2014

 

90 points, "Excellent / Highly Recommended"

Ultimate Spirits Challenge, 2014

 

4 stars

The Whisky Reviewer, March 2013

 

"Gold Medal / Exceptional"

International Review of Spirits, BTI Chicago

 

4 Stars / Highly Recommended “...exceedingly pleasant”

Spirit Journal 2011

 

“I love this whisky.”

David Wondrich, 2011

 

91 points  

“Highly attractive and complex; a long, exceptionally malty finish;  a fabulous whisky”

Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2010 

Armorik Single Malt Sherry Finish French Whisky

After their initial maturation in American Bourbon oak, the Sherry Finish is transferred to first-fill sherry casks for a few months. 

 

The natural fruitiness of Armorik is thereby enhanced by warm notes of dried fruit and prunes so characteristic of sherry.

 

 

Nose: Round and warm, it evokes the candied fruits with a touch of chocolate. 

 

Palate: Lively and finely wooded, it evolves into more roundness accompanied by some marine notes and cereals.  

 

Finish: Long and pleasant, pleasantly spicy and iodine.

 

REVIEWS

 

Gold Medal

San Francisco Spirits Competition, 2017 

 

Chairman's Trophy

94 points

Tried and True Award

"This French whisky drinks a lot like a Scottish single malt. Traces of rubber, peat and toffee comes through on the nose. In the mouth, it’s apples and sherry with a peppery edge. Still, fresh and vibrant. Excellent, highly recommended."

Ultimate Spirits Challenge, 2015

 

91 points. Armorik Sherry Finish, 46%

"Sticky short ribs from the churrascaria, black pepper, allspice, and a little leather. This is a richly savory whisky with a substantial mouthfeel that's never chewy. It was matured for 4 years in bourbon wood, then finished in oloroso cherry casks, creating a palate of figs, mixed peel, dried chili flakes, mocha, and whole black peppercorns. Perfectly weighted, right down to the ristretto finish with whole wheat digestive biscuits. Bold, audacious, and voluptuous."

Jonny McCormick, Whisky Advocate, Spring 2015

Armorik Single Malt Double Maturation French Whisky

Symbol of the distillery’s values, this Armorik Double Maturation enhances both the quality of its know-how and its commitment to the Breton “terroir.” Through a partnership with a local cooper, the distillery uses unique oak casks from the forests of Brittany. Armorik Double Maturation rests there for many years before being transferred into sherry casks for a second maturation. Reduced to 46% and non chill filtered, Armorik impresses with its elegance and complexity.

 

Nose: Fruity and elegant, it shows beautiful notes of citrus and apple, all served with salted butter caramel. 

 

Palate: A fine woodiness changing rapidly to cereals, all with an unsuspected magnitude. 

 

Finish: Hints of heather honey come to the finish supported by the cereals and enjoyable marine notes.

 

REVIEWS

#6 - Top 20 Whiskies of 2018

"France has quietly been making some exciting whiskies, and keeping most to itself. Fortunately, Warenghem Distillery in Brittany exports a number of single malts, which it has been making for over two decades. This whisky, matured initially in local oak and finished in first-fill sherry casks, has perfumy aromas that lift up its malt-forward character. Spicy and floral, with flavors of citrus, cherry, raspberry-jam cookie, salted nuts, and savory tobacco, it is delicate with a satisfying creamy texture. This is a reformulation of the previously available Double Maturation utilizing new cask techniques advised by the late Dr. Jim Swan." 93 points

Susannah Skiver Barton,  (Whisky Advocate 2018)

 

"Best in Show, Double GOLD"

San Francisco World Spirits Competition, 2014 

 

90 points. "Excellent,

Highly Recommended"

Ultimate Spirits Challenge, 2013

 

"Best European Single Malt Whisky under 12 Years"

"Best European Single Malt"

World Whiskey Awards, Whiskey Magazine, 2013

 

4 stars

The Whisky Reviewer, May 2013


Armorik Single Malt Vintage 2002 French Whisky

Armorik Vintage 2002 Oloroso Sherry Cask Number 3261 is the first from a series of exceptional casks, launched to celebrate the first 10 years Armorik.

 

These casks distilled in February 2002 and selected for their unique quality, have long been kept in the silence and darkness of the cellars. Each year a single cask of this series will be bottled in a unique packaging highlighting men who worked to make this great single malt Breton whiskey.

 

Armorik Breton Single Cask Armagnac Dartigalongue Finish

The whisky was matured for 4 years in a refilled bourbon cask and spent a further 2 years in the Dartigalongue Armagnac cask. The first single malt to be finished in Armagnac casks.

 

Tasting notes from the Director of Warenghem Distillery, David Roussier:

 

Color: Copper

 

Nose: Nice aromatic intensity. At first some lemon notes and vanilla, followed by ripe fruits (Mirabelle plums) and elegant oaky notes. Licorice, with soft notes of pastry with almonds.

 

Palate: Intense aromas of citrus, followed by a nice roundness and nice volume. Elegant woodiness enhanced by peppery and fruity (peach) notes. Long and spicy finish. 

 

REVIEWS

91 points, Excellent, Highly Recommended

"Bright pale gold in the glass. The nose opens with smoked golden raisins, prune and figs. Honey, cereal, sultana and more smoke come through on the palate in waves of flavor."

Ultimate Spirits Challenge 2018

 

4 stars, Highly Recommended

"Entry is delicately sweet and maple-like -- the sweetness comes from an irrepressibly fruity ripeness that reminds me most of blackberry jam...in all, a well-knit flavor profile that extends into the satisfying finish as the taste turns drier, leaner, and nutty. In my view, the best Armorik I've had to date. Lovely."

Paul Pacult, Spirit Journal 2017 

 

"What happened when Warenghem Distillery’s David Roussier finished some of his famous Breton whisky for 2 years in a Dartigalongue Armagnac cask from the oldest Bas Armagnac production house? Sweet apple, pear, vanilla, lemon peel, and marzipan appear. A drink that awakens intense citrus sensations of marmalade, mixed peel, lemon and orange segments, followed by a light snap of pepper, gooseberries, nectarine flesh, and a lemony finish with hints of oak."

Jonny McCormick, Whisky Advocate, Summer 2017

Limited Edition. 2000 bottles. 

Natural color, non-chill-filtered.

 

Armorik Triagoz is a tribute to the Triagoz wild archipelago, off the Pink Granite Coast, one of the most beautiful stretches of Brittany’s coastline. The result of four years, this is the distillery’s first bottling using a touch of peat, offering the rich and fruity Armorik character and lightly peated flavor. 

 

This peated expression of Armorik was created to celebrate the 20th anniversary of making Armorik single malt whiskies. Aged in ex-bourbon casks.

 

Creamy nose with notes of cooked peach and pear and a hint of thyme give way to the peaty flavors, cloves and a bit of vanilla.

 

Palate opens with wood fire, warm and spicy. Round, but fresh citrus notes followed by smoke and finishing with powerful notes of peat fire, pepper notes, and iodine.