The Best Spirit You May Have Never Heard Of
Earlier this month, I sat down with Matt Pavich of the world-renowned whisky blog, Axis of Whisky, for a live, interactive tasting of our upcoming November Outturn on YouTube. If you were unable to catch the original broadcast, you can still watch it here: LIVE November Outturn Preview Tasting. After tasting through five samples of our latest single cask whiskies, I presented Matt with a sixth and final sample and asked him to do his best in guessing what it was. Blind tastings can be a rather humbling endeavor, even for someone as experienced as Matt. “What was this fantastic yet peculiar spirit?”, Matt wondered. Was it an old Highland whisky? Perhaps an unpeated Islay malt matured in some sort of unique wine cask?
Eventually recognizing that Matt was dealt an impossible task in determining the identify of this unique sample (and feeling somewhat guilty about it), I decided to reveal it once and for all. The spirit turned out to be not a whisky but Cask A5.1 Fruit Shop Raid, a 1989 vintage single cask Armagnac!
Armagnac is a unique style of brandy produced in the Armagnac region in Gascony, France, just south of the highly-popularized region of Cognac. It is the oldest spirit distilled in France, dating all the way back to the 14th century. As a type of brandy, Armagnac is made by distilling wine (made from white grapes) and maturing in oak casks for an often-considerable length of time.
So what do I love about Armagnac? While brandy is generally known as being a very light and fruity spirit, Armagnac is distilled just once, making it far more rustic and robust, offering unique characteristics similar to a rich malt whisky. Relative to Cognac, which is regularly produced by big-name luxury brands and consumed all around the world, Armagnac is usually distilled by small producers, the majority of which are virtually unknown. This means there is amazing value in Armagnac today and it’s no surprise that whisky drinkers are finally beginning to take notice.
The opportunity to experience the Armagnac spirit straight from the cask is an exceptionally rare one, offering a broad range of flavour experiences no less diverse than single cask Scotch whisky. If you tend to enjoy a bright and lively Highland whisky, check out Cask A2.1 Amarena Amaretti, a 6-year-old Bas Armagnac will do just the trick. Cask A4.1 Elegant and inviting reminds me of a soft and gentle Speyside whisky with a unique array of stewed fruits and winter spice. If you seek age and complexity, Cask A3.1 Gravitas and sophistication is a 1987 vintage Bas Armagnac offering tantalizing notes of dark fruits and a dry, spicy finish. And finally, Cask A5.1 Fruit Shop Raid, a fresh and fruity spirit that shows true complexity after nearly three decades in oak.
Exploring Armagnac has not only unearthed an array of unique flavour experiences for me, it has enhanced my fundamental understanding of whisky itself. I find that exploring a new spirit helps put things into perspective, offering a unique comparable that can be enjoyed equally. If you’re feeling ready for a challenge, one that will take your sensory experience to unchartered depths, you won’t want to pass up Armagnac. Just be careful, you may fall in love.