Do you know when in the Cognac region, we don't just drink Cognac? I am going to tell you about an honourable lady called ARLETTE TESSENDIER whose favourite drink was...a good old scotch!
This will be the occasion to talk to you and to make you discover the whisky production of the DISTILLERIE TESSENDIER by tasting for you the ARLETT SINGLE MALT ORIGINAL, the ARLETT SINGLE MALT TOURBE and the ARLETT SINGLE MALT FINITION FUT MIZUNARA.
On board my faithful BRAD PEAT, I once again set off for the beautiful city of Cognac. As we know, it is world famous (and recognised, and it is one of the prides of France), for its production of grape distillate. Did you know that the Cognac region has been distilling since the 15th century? And did you know that the COGNAC appellation has only existed since 1909 and that the know-how has only been listed in the French Intangible Cultural Heritage Inventory since 2020?
On the other hand, what the French know a little less, even if I already had the opportunity to talk to you about it in an article on the region (here, even if I don't understand why everyone didn't read it! ), is that a turning point in the promising little world of French whisky is being played out here.
Indeed, at the moment, this region is causing a stir with the multiplication of Cognac distilleries starting to produce whisky.
And not just any old way! Indeed, French whisky producers, whether they are small or large, established or new, have heavy financial investment needs, whether in manpower, structure (equipment, stills, barrels or storage) and know-how.
And here, in the Cognac region, we have had distillation know-how for quite some time, recognised stills (it is not for nothing that many Scottish distilleries use stills from the Charente), tried and tested casks ready to share their flavours, seasoned men and equipment.
Was it necessary to have more for many houses to launch themselves in the French whisky adventure? I'll just let you have a look at the map of France (here) to understand and see the swarm of distilleries when you look at the south-west. Moreover, the cognac houses find in whisky (and other alcohol productions), something to occupy their stills left fallow outside the 7 months allowed by the cognac AOC (September to March only).
Among the "newcomers" of whisky (but not of cognac), we will find the venerable TESSENDIER house located in the centre of the city of Cognac.
As I said, if it is "new" in the whisky world, it is far from being the case in the cognac world! Indeed, the distillery was born in 1880 when a maths teacher, Gaston Tessendier, decided to produce grape brandy to keep himself busy at the weekend!
Since then, production has been continuous and generations of Tessendiers have continued the adventure and kept the know-how and philosophy of the house alive. In 1950, it became a fully-fledged company and produced quality cognacs such as GRAND BREUIL. In 1993, it gave birth to the COGNAC PARK range, the result of a Ugni blanc grape variety and the creative work and blending of the Scottish DOMINIQUE PARK and his family. This range includes cognacs finished in Japanese MIZUNARA casks (the casks that will interest us today).
Nowadays, it is the fourth generation of TESSENDIER and two brothers who are at the helm. JERÔME, cellar master, and LILIAN, master blenders, who delight us with their production.
They have already diversified the house's cognac offer by proposing (in bottles and even in bulk) a range of Caribbean Rum (SAISON), gin and brandy (GASTON) and even Scotch whisky (YARDS).
But it is above all they who have decided to diversify into whisky, recently, guided by their mother's passion for... scotch! And yes, here in the heart of Cognac territory, there are rebels who prefer malted barley distillate to grape distillate (but I'm sure she was doing this in total secrecy). It is in homage to her that they named their whisky ARLETT (like her!).
The brothers' teams brew the barley and then use the family's 6 double distillation stills to produce a quality "new make".
It is then in one of their 14 ageing cellars scattered and hidden around the city that the distillate is stored and aged in one of their 20,000 French oak barrels (and not only).
To quickly prove their know-how and the extent of what was awaiting the competitors, they had to hit hard and offer something other than their own production. That's why, from the first batch, they also proposed a peated version and a more exclusive version in Mizunara oak.
I propose you to taste everything since we are there.
The first distillate we are going to taste will show us the know-how of the distillery in its most "neutral" version. It has spent 3 years in new oak and bourbon casks.
This whisky has a straw colour (new oak effect).
On the approach to the nose it has a sweet tangerine feel.
The first pass of the nose reveals sweet and gentle notes of cereals and ripe white fruit. A green woody side counterbalances the aromas and reveals its young age.
In the second passage, light spices cover the upper part of the nose while the woody side remains more on the lower part.
In the third passage, the sweetness returns with sweet notes of acacia honey, while the woody side gives it a certain freshness.
On the palate, it enters with a certain strength and freshness. It then has peppery notes mixed with citrus notes. It mellows as it lingers in the mouth leaving wood and leather notes and the sensation of velvet on the tongue. Its frank aromas show its young age and at the end it loses a little power to become honeyed.
When swallowed it leaves woody notes in the mouth and warmth and velvet in the throat.
The empty glass is clearly cereal and woody.
This time, the TESSENDIER distillery has chosen to strike hard and to show once again its potential. Indeed, the cellar master has used Japanese MIZUNARA wooden casks (Quercus crispura for the Latin name afficionados!).
And this time, the distillery shows that it has the potential of casks, because by using this Japanese wood, it enters the very closed circle (like some Japanese distilleries and BOWMORE, DEWARS, or WRITER'S TEARS in Europe) which can claim to use them for their ageing. TESSENDIER was already the only cognac distillery to use this type of cask for the ageing of its PARK BORDERIE cognac (one can imagine that these casks have been used here).
For the ageing of his whisky, the cellar master chose to blend a 3 year old distillate half aged in bourbon barrels and half in new American oak barrels. Once blended, he slipped it into a famous Mizunara oak cask (which had previously housed cognac) for one year to give it its incense and sandalwood aromas.
This stay gives the distillate a deep golden colour but a little less marked than the classic.
As you approach the glass, you can already feel that it is going to be sweet as it is already releasing sweet aromas.
On the nose it is very discreet and fine (Japanese style). It will reveal floral notes and also sweet spices like cinnamon.
On the second pass, it is more medicinal and fresh with more pronounced cereal and clove aromas.
In the third passage, woody notes are present. One can find smells of acacia wood and other burnt exotic woods.
Moreover, in the palm of the hand, this burnt side would almost give it a very light peaty taste.
As fresh as its nose was, it is sweet and mellow on the palate. It quickly becomes spicy and stings the tongue.
The freshness of the nose disappears and is transformed into heat. At first it is vanilla-sweet but soon releases peppery notes. Once the tension of the entry fades, it becomes sweet and honeyed again. There are a few spice peaks but overall it is round and sweet. Over time it tastes of almond and retains woody notes.
On the way down it has a return of apple and sandalwood (from the cask).
The empty glass is clearly on woody notes.
Once again with this third distillate, the aim of this whisky is to show the extent of the TESSENDIER distillery's know-how.
Indeed, this time it is peated barley (to our great pleasure) which has been chosen to produce the wash which was distilled 3 years ago. And in order to let the distillate express itself fully, it was chosen to age it only in first fill bourbon casks.
In fact, this whisky is the lightest of the three, with more of the straw colour recognisable from bourbon cask ageing.
The nose will be clearly different from the other two references of the brand. It will reveal a mixture of pear and iodine aromas (the latter taking precedence over the former quite quickly).
In the second passage, we will clearly find the peat-dried malted barley (even if it is light). It is quite clean and has an iodised marine character but also a sweet side. It has an air of roasted vanilla bean.
In the third passage we find spices that have managed to emerge from the waves and come to sign as a trademark of the house.
The peat shows all its potential and its presence in the palm of the hand.
As you approach the mouth, you'll find the impression of smoke wisps recognisable from peaty whiskies
On the palate, we find the soft entry of the other distillates, but then with a clear peaty mark. There are notes of ash and smoke. These notes remain on the palate for quite a long time, while cereal, spicy and honeyed notes come in turn. All this while maintaining a certain iodine tension.
It will go down the throat leaving its notes of smoke and liquorice stick.
This is the end of my little tour in Cognac with this beautiful discovery, but something tells me that we have not finished hearing about this honourable Maison TESSENDIER and all its colleagues in the region.
And I know that I have not finished making a tour with my faithful BRAD PEAT.