At The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, we are on a passionate pursuit of the world’s most remarkable spirits. While the majority of our focus is geared toward our first love, Scotch whisky, this pursuit of flavour has occasionally led us to new and unexpected discoveries within the broader world of spirits. Of all the spirits we’ve explored to date, few have won over my heart quite like 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? For one, it’s very “whisky-like”. 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 Scotch. 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. Which of the Society’s single cask Armagnacs should you try? If you tend to enjoy a bright and lively Highland whisky, Cask A3.3 ‘University Bonfire’, a 1997 Bas Armagnac, offers similar top notes of wooden furniture, citrus zest and a drizzle of toffee caramel that to me serves as a familiar albeit unique flavour experience. Cask A5.1 ‘Fruit shop raid’, which some members have mistaken as a sherry-matured Speyside whisky during a blind tasting, has a rich and hearty profile that reminds me of just that. If you tend to enjoy whisky for its depth and complexity, Cask A2.2 ‘’Enchanted woodland stroll’ is arguably the most enchanting of the casks available today. I’ve spent over an hour just nosing it and still find few aromas tucked away every time I revisit.
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.