“We can be knowledgeable with other men’s knowledge but we cannot be wise with other men’s wisdom.” – Michel de Montaigne
Those with their ships anchored in American whiskey waters are all too aware of its ever-changing tide. In one season finished expressions are all the rage, in another this grain or that gains prominence, while, in still another, blends are en vogue. This is all done in pursuit of several ends that can be reduced to one: satisfaction. Whiskey producers are constantly tasked with satisfying a thirsty market whose unslaked curiosity is only intensified because in commerce there are few words that excite quite like “new.”
In attempting to satiate the untiring appetite of contemporary whiskey enthusiasts we’ve seen an overabundance of craft and legacy distilleries alike leaning into whatever trend du jour will satisfy both the market and their own bottom line. At times these experiments end well, but often they run afoul of what we would commonly call “good whiskey.” You know this all too well, dear reader – whether it be in your personal travels or through your discerning engagement with the views held on this site – quite frequently “new” whiskey expressions fall flat. More smoke than mirror, if you will; when one takes a long enough look at some of these efforts, one is left wondering what about this is new?
“Single warehouse” or “tier whatever” offerings are among the most unimaginative of the bunch (which is not to say they are wholly unappealing) but – even when giving consideration to exotic finishes or unique mash bills – inevitably you reach a point in your whiskey journey where there just ain’t enough “new” to hold your attention. Frankly, I’m not sure there should be. Whiskey is delicious, and it’s made in a great deal of unique ways in unique regions. Indeed, there is a lot of variance in the wider world of whiskey, and even confining our consideration to the American whiskey world: there are enough variations on the theme to keep most among us satisfied.
But why stop there? Those with their anchors up, jovially journeying from whiskey waters to tequila tributaries, mezcalmarshes, and brandy brooks can attest to the joys of wetting one’s beak in any number of alliterative alcoholic areas. This is all to say: why not explore? Those in the know have been proclaiming for years that Armagnac would be the next frontier for whiskey enthusiasts who, due to relative price or genuine curiosity, would soon turn their attention to other spirits.
Seeing as how theory is incomplete without praxis, let’s take this knowledge and enrich it with the sort of wisdom that can only come from experience. Today I’ll be trying an Armagnac, my second under consideration for review, to further gauge whether or not the cognoscenti are correct in their assertion that Armagnac is the next big thing for American whiskey fans.
Speaking of the cognoscenti: we have quite the assortment of authorities on whiskey to thank for the expression in front of me. I will be reviewing a L’Encantada XO blend affectionately nicknamed “Aficionados & Friends” from the digital distributor Seelbach’s and “guided by” Jay West, better known in some circles as t8ke of Whiskey Raiders and r/Bourbon fame. Joining Jay in selecting this first-of-its-kind fully custom L’Encantada XO blend were the other 4 founding members of the Aficionados Group: Jason Callori of the Mash and Drum, Ryan Cecil of Bourbon Pursuit, John Henderson of Bourbon Finder, friend of Malt Review David Jennings of RareBird101, and Steve Ury of Sku’s Recent Eats.
The resultant blend was comprised of an undisclosed percentage of three single vintage casks. Those casks are a Domaine De Belair from 1993 (Cask #8L), Domaine Del Cassou from 1986 (Cask #125), and a Domaine du Pouy from 2008 (Cask #164). The final blend was bottled at cask strength with no additives per the front label and produced 504 bottles in collaboration with importer PM Spirits. To dispense with the remaining pertinent details, the final proof is 102.6 (51.3% ABV) and it was sold at $149.99, though I should note this bottle was provided to me at no cost – and under no obligation to review it – by Seelbach’s.
Finally I’d like to offer insight into several of my preconceived notions, leading with this: I like Armagnac. I have previously enjoyed several of them (primarily products from this very brand, L’Encantada) and so while my experience is limited it does come with a positive predisposition. Secondly, I hold a fair deal of respect for the aforementioned blending panel. Again, having had several selections from many of those named, my hopes remain high.
Finally, try as I may to ignore the cost before rendering my score, it’s impossible to overlook the fact that “free” is a considerable sum less than $150. Price will ultimately be considered in my rating per Malt’s scoring policy and I encourage you, dear reader, to take me at my word on that. However, if you were to take that suggestion with a grain of salt you would certainly be forgiven.
Now, without further ado!
L’Encantada XO Armagnac “Aficionados & Friends” – Review
Color: Ruddy copper
On the nose: Right off the bat I’m welcomed by dates, walnuts, brown sugar, and a curious spearmint aroma that runs down the middle of these darker notes in wisps that disappear just as soon as they’re perceived. The aroma of an old library encroaches and then is curtailed by more dates – cooked this time. Given time to settle there is also the faintest indication of bubblegum while tobacco leaf emerges as well. I have to say there’s truly embarrassment of riches at hand here and I will enjoy nosing this glass for some time.
In the mouth: Cinnamon, cooked dates, and brown sugar run up the middle of the palate with the dates and cinnamon clinging to the tongue most prominently as the brown sugar recedes into vanilla and buttered wheat toast. As this shifts to the back of the palate other baking spices run up the roof of the mouth, accompanied by their cinnamon chaperone. On the finish it’s those spices along with walnuts and a sugar-coated lime slice candy that keeps me company for a good spell. My primary complaint with the Armagnac I’ve had in the past is that the finish can be a bit evanescent, but no such issue arises here as earthy notes complement the spice and hold my interest long after the initial sip.
Considered from the point of view of a whiskey drinker looking to transition into the Armagnac arroyo (a small stream generally found in desert areas) this expression has certainly given me a reason to splash around. Considered even against other Armagnac expressions, I think this blend stands as an exemplary indication of what many so-called aficionados appreciate about the category. Ebullient with rich aromas that transition well to the palate, and selected by an impressive collection of critics, I was surprised to discover Seelbach’s actually still has some of these bottles on their site – though that’s indicative of something thus-far unmentioned.
One reason Armagnac is often encouraged as a bourbon substitute is that it hasn’t yet reached the fervent level of attention afforded to America’s native spirit. Sure, there are folks who avidly enjoy the category and others who speculatively snap up the plethora of 20+ year age stated expressions on the market, but Armagnac as a whole still tends to fly under the radar.
Due to all of this, and with regard to the impressive quality of the blend before me, I feel inclined to add my voice to the chorus of those encouraging you to give Armagnac a try. Hell, this is as good a place as any to start. While $150 is by no means an “affordable” alternative for most folks (keep in mind the youngest Armagnac in this blend is only 12 years old) I do think you’re in for both an edifying and enjoyable experience if you’re able to buy one of the few remaining bottles of this expression.
At any rate, if you know about Armagnac but have yet to take the plunge, you’d be wise to start now. Then again, to conclude with Montaigne’s most famous quote, ”Que sçay-je?”