Warenghem Distillery, the producer of Armorik, is located in the town of Lannion, in the north of the Brittany region of France. Their whisky proudly wears the label "Whisky Breton", which is the term for the Brittany region and its people, and the name Armorik refers to the region's name under Roman occupation, in what was then known as Gaul. After the Roman empire's withdrawal and subsequent collapse, the region received a number of British settlers, and became known as Brittany. Said to be more closely related to Scotland, Wales and Ireland than southern France, the region also has its own language, derived from Celtic and bought to the region by those British emigrants. France would probably not be high on most people's list when thinking about whisky. More well known for their wine, brandy, cognac and champagne, you might be surprised to learn that France is actually the world's largest consumer of whisky per capita... (Jeremy Clarkson pause) in the world!
While Warenghem Distillery has been in operation for over 85 years, they only started making whisky in 1983. Initially they only produced blended whiskies, but progressed to single malts in 1998 with the introduction of Armorik single malt, which then launched in 2009. Production levels are quite low, with only around 100,000 litres of single malt produced per year, which puts them more in line with Tasmanian distilleries or the tiny-est of the Scotch equivalents. Armorik is produced from 100% French malted barley, double-distilled in Scottish-built copper pot stills, and matured in either ex-bourbon, ex-sherry or Breton virgin oak casks (I can't say if this is actually a different species to 'normal' French oak), or double-matured / finished in a combination of cask types. Aside from a couple of entry-level expressions that are mainly available domestically, the remainder of their single malt is bottled at 46% ABV and above, without chill filtration or added colouring.
Armorik single malt, along with the distillery's excellent "Roof" rye whiskey, is distributed by Monsieur Jeremy Daunay, a.k.a. Le Baron De Spirits (he's French, in case all of that didn't give it away!), a very nice & very knowledgeable and hard-working gent based in Sydney. He was also responsible for an Australian exclusive single cask bottling that was released last year, which was fully-matured in a French Sauternes sweet wine cask. He kindly donated the sample for this review from one of the last available examples of this particular bottling, and I believe it's now completely sold out. In fact only 48 bottles ever made it to Australia, so I'm pretty lucky to be tasting this one at all!
Armorik's Millesime (French for "vintage") label refers to their single cask bottlings, and was first released in 2012 as a celebration of the distillery's first 10-year old bottling. The release I'm reviewing today is from cask number 3309, which was distilled in November 2002, and was fully-matured in an ex-Oloroso sherry cask before being bottled in June 2016, with a yield of 731 bottles. I've seen a few websites stating that this is a 14 year old whisky, but unless I've missed something, or my maths has failed me, it's actually around 13.5 years of age. It's bottled at a cask strength of 56.3% ABV, and is non-chill filtered and naturally coloured. Original retail pricing was quite reasonable for a cask strength & exclusive single cask whisky, at around $275 AUD. Let's get to it!
Armorik Millesime 2002, single cask, 56.3%. Brittany, France.
Matured in a single ex-Oloroso sherry cask, distilled 11/2002, bottled 6/2016 at cask strength. Cask number 3309, 731 bottles. Non-chill filtered, natural colour.
Colour: Full amber / bronze.
Nose: Lovely light & sweet fruits, slightly waxy, and slightly chalky & mineral-y. Rich fruity sherry, a little citrus marmalade, stewed red apples & red berries. Hint of coffee grounds and spicy, warm, slightly bitter oak. With more time, the apple & berry become sweeter and stronger.
Texture: Medium weight, quite a bit of heat & spice. Warming.
Taste: Considerably dryer than I expected from the nose. More of that slightly chalky minerality, and quite of lot of assertive hot spices - cinnamon, ginger, ground chilli. More red apples and slightly bitter oak, stewed stone fruits & citrus rind.
Finish: Hot and drying initially, and the now aggressive spice hangs around for quite a while before settling down a bit. Medium-to-long length, but there's not too much left around once that heat & spice subsides. The fruit has turned slightly bitter, the red apple returns, and there's a little more coffee grounds and lightly spicy oak.
Score: 3 out of 5.
Notes: An interesting one! I really liked the nose with that lovely rich sherry and fruit, and the initial hit on the palate was a good one, but that heat and spice killed the latter palate and the finish for me. I even tried adding water towards the end of the dram, which I never usually do when reviewing, and it didn't make much of a difference at all. It really attacked the roof of the mouth, and the last whisky I had, almost 24 hours ago, was over 69% which gives a frame of reference. Nonetheless, it's still pleasantly drinkable, and is a flavoursome drop with plenty of character, and if you like your drams to be very spicy and slightly aggressive then this one will be up your alley. It's important to note though that this was a single cask release which is now sold out, so if you see an Armorik Millesime on the shelves, chances are it's not this particular bottling.
I'm still a fan of Armorik's work, and had the chance to try a little of the newest limited release, the 4-year old virgin oak matured "Dervenn" (Breton for "oak"), which was very impressive, especially for the age. I look forward to what they come up with next! Thanks to Monsieur Daunay from Le Baron De Spirits for the sample.