When we talk about the rise of French whiskies (and if you read my lines you know that I like to talk about it), of course, we often point to the Grand Est and Brittany. I've already had the opportunity to tell you about New Aquitaine and Occitania, but in fact whisky is now flowing everywhere in France: North, Alps, South East .... (mea culpa if I don't mention all the regions).
There are now more distilleries and whisky producers in France than in Scotland, let's face it! Of course the volumes are not comparable, but it should be noted (and we can be proud of it)! A vast subject that this 2022 French Spirits Day puts forward.
Amongst these distillates, we have to think about a region which does not complain about its share: Normandy.
I have already had the opportunity to tell you about the Viking farmer ancestors of the NORTHMAEN Distillery Farm in the heart of the Bray region (see here the tasting), but there is also a "newcomer" (I will come back to this) in the Auge region: the SPIRITERIE FRANCAISE located at the Château du Breuil.
I have chosen to let you taste its three references that are constantly being talked about: LE BREUIL ORIGINE, LE BREUIL FINITION SHERRY OLOROSO and LE BREUIL FINITION TOURBEE!
BRAD PEAT is heading for Normandy and the village of Le Breuil en Auge, located halfway between the miracles of Lisieux and the cheeses of Pont l'Évêque. We go to a castle!?
With its beautiful brown half-timbering and red bricks, the Breuil castle stands out perfectly against the green Normandy pasture on which it is set.
As you know, I like to go back in time with my "super space-time BRAD PEAT van" to find the origins of the distillates I'm talking about.
So, if I were to use his time convector to talk about this building, I would have to aim for the reign of François I (beginning of the 16th century) and go to meet the lord of Breuil and Rabu Jean III de Bouquetot.
Then, if I wanted to go to the moment when a castle was transformed into an industrial building, I would have to set my time convector to 1833, when it was transformed into a wheat mill and spinning mill (for linen, cotton, wool and silk).
But the most interesting setting would be the 1950s, when it was bought by Philippe Bizouard (in 1954), a great man who decided to install stills (two years later) and to house a Calvados distillery (which has since become a reference in the field and the second largest producer in the region).
Yes, I know, you're thinking "but he'll end up talking about whisky!
Well yes, because to quote a famous line from the great Michel Audiard "You can say that there is not only apple, there is something else. It wouldn't be beetroot, would it?
No, it's not beetroot, but barley, which has also been smelling since 2017 at the Château du Breuil, because yes, the two Charentais stills now also distil beer.
Before telling you about the Norman whisky, to finish my now shorter time leaps, I will finish with a return to full confinement (in 2020) with the buyout of the whole thing by Frédéric Dussart at first and finally in 2021 with a change of name: La Spiriterie Française, Château du Breuil - Normandie.
Here we are! LA SPIRITERIE FRANCAISE !
To talk about it, what better way than to meet David CICERON (brand ambassador) and Philippe ETIGNARD (cellar master).
This famous Philippe has a problem: he doesn't design anything but the best!
His field of action has been wide for the 10 years he has been working at the Château.
The Distillery has long been a reference in terms of Calvados (both in terms of distillation and ageing), but he has not been afraid to slip this apple distillate into casks of Sauternes, Sherry Oloroso, Port and even whisky.
He then participated in the launch of the exploration of rums, by blending them or by slipping them into unusual casks: Madeira, bourbon, cognac...
For this fine nose (and the new management), it was not going to be possible to launch the château into the world of whisky by limiting itself to offering distillates as a bottler, as was the case with its Irish distillates WHISTLER, or as a simple distributor (for THE ULTIMATE or DUCAN'S scotch, OLD DAN TUCKER bourbon or NOBUSHI Japanese whisky).
The question was "simple", how to make the best whisky?
One of the solutions was to use the "queen" of barleys (certainly not the cheapest or the most productive, but the most aromatic): the GOLDEN PROMISE barley coming directly from across the Channel. The latter was once the most widely used barley and is one of the sources of The Macallan's successes, for example (Editor's note).
The basis has been laid and the adventure launched in 2015.
For the moment, the distillery remains more apple than barley and the whole process is not yet integrated in the Auge, but this is only a short time.
Of course, the English "gold" transits through the Vexin (in the SUTTER brewery "vacherie" - a tip for beer lovers) to be brewed there, but the brew is vaporised in the two stills.
Above all, it is in the two ageing cellars (dry and wet), which have already proved their worth with calvados, that the final distillate comes to rest before treating us.
And it is here once again that Philippe has struck. In addition to the oak barrels of calvados, he has brought in bourbon, sherry and even Scotch whisky barrels.
So were these choices right? We'll see when we taste it, but the first medals at the WORLD WHISKY AWARD 2022 speak for themselves:
- LE BREUIL ORIGINE gold medal;
- LE BREUIL SHERRY OLOROSO voted Best French Whisky (in the non-age category);
- LE BREUIL FINITION TOURBEE bronze medal.
For a trial gallop (as on the nearby Deauville racetrack) we can say that it is rather successful.
So let's have a taste?
Let's start at the beginning:
We are looking at a whisky with a slightly more pronounced gold colour than you can get with some bourbon casks.
Because yes, what better way to start producing whisky than to show off your skills in the usual bourbon casks.
But the hue is self-explanatory. In the case of ORIGINE, for 3 years, it is mostly aged in first fill bourbon casks, but it is "pepped up" in terms of colour (for the taste we will see just after) by a flick of new French oak casks.
So what does it smell like?
The first smell that comes out of the glass is linked to the raw material and the phenols it contains (which give it a slightly lemony air) from which it is made, with a slight barley smell. However, quite quickly a sweet smell of white-fleshed fruit such as vine peach appears
On the second pass, the smell becomes more rounded and the aromas more sweet. A little pear is added to the sweet peach and shortly afterwards some sweet spices which sting the nose.
On the third pass, it becomes warmer with notes of almond and hazelnut.
In the palm of the hand, it is marked by barley but also by a smell of hazelnut.
Crédit : le whiskyfrancais.com
On the palate, it is soft on entry with a very sweet fruit. It is then a little fresher and floral with a hint of wood. Later on, spices tickle the tongue. But it soon becomes more caramel and honey and clearly sweet. Some spices come back but without violence. One can feel a woody vanilla hint at the end of the tasting, with small spicy explosions here and there.
On the way down, it gets fresh again with a little liquorice stick. But it leaves a silky impression in the mouth.
The empty glass keeps a little hint of peach at the beginning, then gives way to barley.
The colour of this second reference is of course much more amber, clearly indicating that it has been aged in Spanish wine casks.
Indeed, if the distillate is kept in first fill bourbon casks for one year, it is then transferred to Oloroso sherry casks of Atlantic Andalusia for two years in order to give it the fruitiness of a Spanish summer evening.
In fact, when the nose enters the glass the first time, it will find at the very beginning the "usual" notes of the previous whisky on a certain sweetness, but very quickly the Spanish dancer will make her effect with a more suave smell of plum.
In the second passage, this fruity smell calms down a bit to give way to more woody notes and a strong return of the malt (it is for it to be present that the Golden Promise has been chosen, so it seems normal!)
It is these woody and vanilla notes that dominate the third passage.
In the palm of the hand, vinous notes mingle with the barley.
The Spanish heat is revealed much more on the palate, as it is the Andalusian sun that first enters the mouth, dragging in its wake sweet notes of fruit bursting with its rays, such as plums and grapes. Then it's the turn of the red fruits with cherry and blackberry. The whole tasting is marked by heat.
The finish remains warm and vinous with a few rays of sunshine in the throat and mouth.
To finish, let's move on to a word dear to PEATDREAM: Peat.
But let there be no mistake, the light golden liquid that flows into the glass is not strictly speaking a peated whisky because the Golden Promise that is the base is not. The initial barley is the same as for the other two distillates.
As the bottle label states, this is a "peaty finish".
The ageing process proves this. After a year spent in bourbon casks like the other two distillates, it is now aged for two years in casks that have been used for the first time for peaty whiskies in the south of the Isle of Islay. And when you know the phenolic load of the distillates from this part of the "wonder island", you can imagine that some tyre marks must remain on the staves.
So what about it?
In fact, when you dip your nose into the glass for the first time, you can make out some peat smoke aromas. Nevertheless, they are very discreet and far from those of a peated whisky. However, they are present with a peaty, grassy smell. By leaving the nose in the glass we will find our ORIGIN with its cereal notes.
On the second pass, as the small smoke dissipates, the air is charged with a little more fruit and especially a little more spice.
On the third pass, the spices are still present but a more toffee and roasted cocoa seed note is added.
The hand test does not deceive, the peat smoke is there and it is indeed the smoke that accompanies the barley.
On the palate, there are notes of cold smoke and spices. Then, although they remain persistent, they give way to slightly lemony citrus notes. The peat is then very discreet under the effect of the peppery tension. Behind these spikes we then discover a mellow and warm whisky which goes towards honey and vanilla biscuit with still some spicy tensions here and there.
The finish is long and shows peat smoke returns but also vanilla notes and above all a long smoke and pepper retro-olfaction in the mouth.
The empty glass is fresh and very discreet compared to the other two references. There are nevertheless some fruity notes of peach and sweetness.
The least we can say is that, considering these 3 tastings, for young references (3 years old) of a newcomer in whisky, the "business" seems to be quite well mastered and that there could well be nice things in the future from the Château Normand.
We start dreaming about working on more or less atypical casks (the distillery does not only make whisky, and I remind you that France has quite a lot of staves which have contained all sorts of alcohol).
It seems to me that I have already heard about a single cask bourbon and about a work with another distillery, but ..... Well yes, well no! 😉;