As a spirits writer focused on Scotch, I often find myself championing the whisky shops around the country that offer great service, and who value the drinker ahead of the collector.
The whisky knowledge of those retailers is always incredible. However, the challenge of being an expert is that you generally learn more and more about less and less until you know absolutely everything about nothing. As such, the handful of shelves with a small selection of gin, rum, tequila, mezcal, Cognac, and Armagnac are often a little bare, and there is limited depth of choice. Whilst I will always love a Scotch-focused whisky shop, there is a personal risk in only experiencing other spirits through the eyes of a Scotch retailer.
A general purveyor of wines and spirits offers a greater opportunity to try more spirits and perhaps find something unusual that excites, whilst also aligning with a palate attuned to Scotch. Perhaps it’s something completely off the wall that could be that flavour curveball that opens up a new drinking dimension. Many have found this with mezcal but, until recently, the breadth of spirit types in Europe had passed me by. This changed with an incredible split offered by a member of one of my whisky clubs in London (the Capital Whisky Club): an almost complete set of the special anniversary releases from Amathus Drinks in London (“almost complete” only due to the delay of import of one of the bottles).
Amathus Drinks – a specialist importer, distributer, and retailer – was established in 1978, and turned 45 this year. The London based importer and retailer has expanded outside of London to a total of 10 shops, including Brighton and Bath, with plans to expand by a further 10 shops in the next few years.
Their point of difference has always been the breadth of the portfolio of spirits that they source. For this anniversary release, Managing Director Harry Georgiou collaborated closely with various distillers to bring interesting exclusives to their shelves. Together, the team has selected casks, blends, or vintages to mark this significant milestone.
For me, it offered a chance to try a range of spirits that present a real pedigree and quality. I think therefore, before I dive into the detail, we should say that it is easy to assume none of the anniversary specials will be rubbish. These will represent high quality for their style and, when I come to scoring, I must score against my own Scotch attuned palate; please bear this in mind.
Calvados is a type of brandy made from apples in the Normandy region of France regulated under French AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) guidelines. The production of Calvados follows a specific process: apples are harvested, fermented into a cider, and then distilled into eau-de-vie. This eau-de-vie is then aged in oak barrels, which contributes to its flavor and complexity. The aging process must last at least two years, but many Calvados are aged much longer to enhance their taste.
Château du Breuil, situated in Normandy, produces around 300,000 bottles of Calvados Pays d’Auge each year. The estate, comprised of 42 hectares, is planted with 22,000 apple trees. Up to five varieties of apples are used to create the perfect base. After crushing and fermentation it undergoes a double distillation, after which it is left to age and mature in French oak casks situated in the Château’s cellars. The unique Normandy climate being mild and humid ensures idyllic conditions for aging.
Château Du Breuil Fût 17043 Calvados Pays d’Auge – Review
22 year old Bottle for Amathus 45th Anniversary. 47.7% ABV. £120.
On the Nose: Citrus juice tossed fresh apple, yeasty Normandie Cidre, sharp cooking apples, farmyard, baked caramelised apples, vanilla sugar, fine patisserie, cedar wood, and fresh tobacco leaves.
In the mouth: Everything you get on the nose, coating the inside of the mouth with a sparkling effervescence, layers of apple goodness, the finish lingers with some bright wood spice and vanilla.
This is great, so bright and fresh, yet deep and complex too. I love the Cidre vibe. For me…
Marc and Fine de Bourgogne
Marc and Fine de Bourgogne are French brandies produced in the Burgundy region renowned for its winemaking. This spirit Marc unique as it is made from the pressed grape skins, seeds, and stems (collectively known as pomace) left over from the wine production process, particularly from the region’s famous Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. After the grapes are pressed for wine, the remaining pomace is collected and fermented. Whereas the Fine process uses the wine lees, which is usually the sediments of yeast and small particles of grape left in the barrel after the wine is drawn off.
Both processes end up being distilled to create Eu De Vie, which is then aged in oak barrels and is renowned for its complex bouquet, typically characterized by rich, deep flavors with notes of fruits, spices, and a distinctive earthiness.
Vincent Jacoulot, born in Romanèche-Thorins, in the heart of Beaujolais, started to distil Marc and Fine de Bourgogne in 1891 with grapes from the vineyards of his wine growing friends. Over time the success of his Marcs and Fines gained him an excellent reputation throughout Burgundy; today, well over 100 years later, Jacoulot Marcs and Fines are the company’s signature product. Maison Jacoulot continues products of the local terroir.
Jacoulot Marc De Bourgogne AOC Hospices De Beaune 2007 – Review
Bottled for Amathus 45th Anniversary. 42% ABV. £125.
Colour: Deep gold.
On the nose: Powerful esters, emulsion paint, camomile lotions, freshly sawn wood, resinous, putty, wax crayons, pencil shavings.
In the mouth: Esters and emulsion paint, floral but developing a great depth in time, fruity mid-palate that is tasty, interesting floral notes, floral gums returning on the finish.
I’d take a chance and say that seasoned Marc drinkers will enjoy this, but I’m yet to overcome my aversion to overly floral spirits, and the woody notes are too much.
Jacoulot L’Authentique Fine De Bourgogne AOC – Review
20 year old bottle for Amathus 45th Aniversary. 43% ABV. £155.
On the nose: Buttery caramel, butterscotch, crème caramel, gentle esters, vanilla panna cotta, a slight fruitiness, ripe tinned fruit salad, spicy wood notes.
In the mouth: Soft caramel becoming quite fruity, almost juicy, a woody backbone, musty grape, a little sour rancio, pencil shavings; the floral notes nicely restrained but cling on in the finish.
Continues to grow on the palate over time. Nicely unusual, bright and fresh, but also complex.
Marc De Muscat
Marc de Muscat is a type of brandy from the Alsace region of France that is produced from the pomace of Muscat grapes following the Marc process above. I separate out this specific example as it is a 1978 vintage that has not been aged in wood, but must have sat in demijohns for 45 years.
Located in the picturesque village of Ribeauville, the Mette distillery carries on the time-honoured craft of distillation. In the discrete rue des Tanneurs, Nathalie and Timothee Traber create subtly distilled eaux-de-vie.
Metté Marc De Muscat 1978 – Review
Bottled for Amathus 45th Anniversary. 45% ABV. £175.
On the nose: Bright perfumed floral notes, nasturtium flower, camomile flower, marigold flower, light esters almost effervescent, elder flower cordial.
In the mouth: Thin texture, very soft and sweet, floral notes, floral gums, parmaviolets, rose syrup.
This is wildly far away from a flavour profile I personally enjoy. There is something quite compelling about this, but I can’t get along with it. I guess that its this je ne sais quoi that would appeal to Eaux De Vie drinkers. With only 11 bottles produced the price tag is equally wild. I am no doubt ignorant of the complexity of this spirit, but I think I am happy that way. For me, it’s..
Armagnac, another type of French brandy from Gascony, is crafted through a distinctive process. It begins with the selection of specific grape varieties, predominantly Ugni Blanc, Baco Blanc, Colombard, and Folle Blanche, each contributing to the final flavor. These grapes are harvested, pressed, and fermented into a wine, notable for its high acidity.
The wine undergoes single distillation in a traditional column still, the “alambic armagnacais” This single distillation at a lower proof, a key difference from Cognac’s double distillation, allows Armagnac to retain a richer array of original grape flavors, yielding a more aromatic spirit.
Château de Laubade is an agricultural and winegrowing estate located in Sorbets, in the Gers, in the heart of the finest Bas Armagnac terroir. The 105-hectare estate in a single block around the château, built in 1870, has been in the Lesgourgues family for three generations. Today, Denis – assisted by his sister Jeanne and brother Arnaud – continue their family’s efforts, with the aim of producing the most outstanding Armagnacs. Here we have two examples, the first a single year vintage blend of Baco and Ugni Blanc grapes, the second a 45 year old blend of 1977, 1978 and the remarkable 1974 Bas Armagnac vintage containing Ugni Blanc and Baco grapes.
Château De Laubade Armagnac Vintage 1978 – Review
Bottled for Amathus 45th Anniversary. 40% ABV. £185.
Colour: Deep gold.
On the nose: Polished oak and vanilla, a slight – but not overpowering – floral note, soft oak spices, a little hint of rancio, earthy, some oxidation giving dusty white fruit.
In the mouth: Polished oak, vinous fruit, building oak spices, lashings of vanilla, caramel sauce, dried ginger, white pepper, spun-sugar, bright and lively despite the depth, finish is soft and refined.
Very rounded and balanced. I would have preferred a little excitement perhaps; still good.
Château De Laubade Armagnac 45 Year Old – Review
Bottled for Amathus 45th Anniversary. 40% ABV. £185.
Colour: Deep gold.
On the nose: Polished oak, violet flowers, earthy floral notes, crystallised lavender flowers, sassafras, wintergreen.
In the mouth: Oak forward, French polish, vanilla and gentle wood spices, beautiful complex interaction of perfumed white fruit and floral notes, with more woody spice giving a long finish with lingering warmth on the tongue.
Nice, sophisticated and balanced again; a little more depth given the age and occasion.
Cognac, the most well-known French brandy, is produced in the Cognac region of France. The process begins with specific white grape varieties, primarily Ugni Blanc, known for high acidity and low alcohol content, ideal for distillation. These grapes are harvested, pressed, and fermented into a base wine. The heart of Cognac production lies in its double distillation in copper pot stills during the winter months following the harvest. The resulting clear eau-de-vie is aged in French oak barrels.
The 28 hectares of vineyards at François Voyer are situated in the Grande Champagne region, the Premier Cru of Cognac, renowned for producing eaux-de-vie with aromatic power and qualities suited to extended aging. The François Voyer family vineyards are in Verrières and Ambleville, and their house has been a home to Cognac production since the 1870s. Their product range is classical, with a range of young expressions as well as exceptionally old blends and vintage bottles. The house of Voyer fosters traditional knowledge and attention to detail. The anniversary blend consists of Grand Cru 1978 46.1% ABV and the Voyer Extra at 42% ABV giving a final ABV of 44.5%.
François Voyer Cognac Grande Champagne Cognac – Review
Bottled for Amathus 45th Anniversary. 44.5%. £299
On the nose: Slight floral note but also perfumed fruit, real depth, dank basement, bright white fruits, caramel and wood spices, furniture polish and a little beeswax, vanilla Sable biscuit dipped in honey.
In the mouth: Beautiful, oxidised fruit that is highly aromatic and rounded, baked apricots and roasted peach, poached pear, very soft floral notes, pleasant over-ripe fruit, wood spice is minimal but welcome seasoning, rancio towards the end of the palate, lovely long fruity finish.
I absolutely love this fantastic fruity expression, which is so tasty and bright on my palate I simply don’t want to swallow it, as it means a mouthful less for the future. The strongest bottle in the lineup. The only thing keeping this from a perfect score would be a little more of the sour rancio.
Scotch Whisky and Not-Scotch-Scotch Whisky
I’ll not revisit the production process for Scotch here, as may a column inch has been dedicated to it over the years on Malt. However, of these two drams that follow, they both have been produced with similar processes. The first – from Loch Lomond – accurately follows the rules on what makes Scotch, Scotch (laid down by the Scotch Whisky Association). It was 11 years in an ex-bourbon barrel before a 12 month maturation in an Oloroso cask. The second follows the French tradition of doing things their own way, and is by a renowned producer Michel Couvreur in a cave in Burgandy, and is therefore not officially allowed to be called Scotch.
Loch Lomond 2010 12 Years Old – Review
Bottled for Amathus 45th Anniversary. 56.2%. £79.
On the nose: Caramel and malt, Hobnob biscuit, flapjack and a little sultana, ground nuts, sweet golden syrup and caramel coffee syrup. Vanilla and nutty toasted malt.
In the mouth: Sweet caramel, then a creamy texture, more nutty and salty, nice funk to the nose before big aromatic fruit, cocoa nibs. The oloroso is not super rich; almost drinks like a manzanilla finish bringing a nice sweet nuttiness to the fruity spirit.
I really enjoy Loch Lomond in bourbon casks, and the use of first fill and fruity spirit has been really successful. This cask treatment allows the spirit and original wood to contribute the most, with the Oloroso just adding another layer of richness. Very successful and quite an achievement to make this distinguished line-up. I was interested in how malty this tasted in light of all the other spirits and, in trying alongside the lineup, I really appreciated a different dimension from Scotch in general.
Michel Couvreur 22 Year Old Single PX Cask Malt Whisky – Review
Bottled for Amathus 45th Anniversary. 52.5% ABV. £595.
Colour: Deep amber.
On the nose: Thick and sticky, ground dates and Sunkist raisins, dark chocolate with smoked sea salt, there is some fruitiness from the spirit pushing through the cask, PX is very prominent.
In the mouth: Smooth oily texture, very sweet sherry forward, treacle sponge, dark caramel, sticky toffee sauce, ginger, spice, dates, charred sugar, the spirit eventually appears at the end of the palate, with water it becomes less sweet and more earthy.
This is very tasty – delicious, in fact – well-aged and rare, but it lacks depth and complexity and is too sweet overall. The price too, is wild.
Photos courtesy of Amathus Drinks. Samples paid for by the author as part of a club bottle split.