The last years have been a lot of fun discovering the wonderful world of whisky and meeting all the lovely people in it. On my journey I had the pleasure to come in contact with Franck Debernardi. He was hosting a French Whisky Twitter Tasting, for the celebration of his blogs anniversary. In this line-up we tasted two expressions of The Armorik whisky.
Curious about the distillery and the other products I contacted them after the tasting, and asked about the possibilities to receive some more information on their whisky and distillery. Admittedly, I had never done so before, but thought to my self, why not ask? I am curious by nature and want to know more about them. So here it goes, my first interview, I Hope you like it. I had a great time doing this and will surely try to do this more often and get a closer look at a distillery through the eyes of the people running it.
So after some contact by email with David Roussier, the General Director of the Warenghem Distillery, we made the arrangement to meet at the Whisky LiveHolland in The Hague, the Netherlands, a couple of weeks later. After a few weeks of brewing on my questions for him, I was fortunate to meet him in this beautiful church in The Hague where the festival was held and sit down with him to talk about the distillery.
The Warenghem Distillery is…?
It is an artisan and innovative family business for more then a century already David explains. The distillery is located in the outskirts of the town of Lannion, near the pink granite coast in Brittany, France. The company began to think about producing whisky about 30 years ago, and in 1987the WB blend came on the market. In 1998 the Armorik whisky followed, the first Single Malt from France.
The distillery makes a wide spectrum of different spirits, and about half of the production is for whisky. About 85% of their sales on whisky are in France, and the rest is for export. France has always been a big market, but this is mostly focused on products available in supermarkets for a low price. The Single Malt market is something relatively new in France.
How did you get to the position you are now in, and where did you find your passion for spirits? What was the defining moment for you in there?
David explains that he feels lucky to be in this line of work, and that the world of spirits is a very open and welcoming one. He learned the ropes while working at the distillery, and also by traveling around Scotland. He had the opportunity to work also a while at Bruichladdich on invitation by Jim McEwan, and learn the trade.
Back while studying, David always had the dream of running a small family company. He was fortunate that his father in law owned a distillery, and he had the chance to start working there. His own father had owned a wine vineyard, but he did not know anything of the business of distilling and whisky, and had to learn every thing on the go.
Looking at other distilleries what is your favorite whisky? And if you have to pick one distillery, who do you admire, and for what?
David him self is a Highland Park lover, but also admires Kilchoman. Not just for the similarities in company size and style. But the way of working they have at Kilchoman he finds something to admire.
About the challenges of branching out, and the dreams for the future…
Talking to David it becomes clear that there are quite a few difficulties you have to face running a smaller distillery who wants to branch out on the export market. He tells me that his hope for the future of Armorik is that in the next few years more and more country’s get to know his whisky, and that the market shifts a bit more from mostly France to more export.
He wants to put a high-end product on the market, and therefor revamped the brand image and visual identity. The trick is that you have to find the good distributors in the different countries because placing a brand in the market from a smaller distillery is totally different then for a big brand.
He tells me this really is a difficult process and the fact that there are no guarantees and is an ongoing struggle, but a rewarding one, when looking at the future. It is looking good for the Breton Whisky. For now it is a lot of hard work to get the people to notice the brand, and to put the different expressions out there first.
How does the distillery looks at using different wood/cask types, coloring and chill filtration?
I asked him about if there are any thoughts about doing other wood experiments, because he is now using mostly Sherry. What are the plans with that? David tells me that there are some smaller experiments going on, but for now they mainly use Sherry casks in combination with the Bourbon ones, because it matches very well with the fruity character of the spirit.
The experiments are just in small batches, and he wants to focus first on building a steady core line. They plan on using more and more fresh Sherry and Bourbon casks. He is looking constantly to improve the quality more of the product.
When talking about the possibilities to improve the quality more and more, next to the cask usage, David talks about the fact that it was normal to water down every thing to 40% and use coloring and chill filtration in the past. For the blends only dispatched in supermarkets, that still will be the case.
But for the Single Malt market he changed a lot in the last few years in the distillery and processes and is trying to get rid of the added coloring, and bottles now at 46%. There are at the moment sadly still some expressions in the line that have some coloring. But this is mostly due to the changes not only to be made in the market and mindset of people, but also at the distillery it is another way of working and thinking. This is a slow process, what has to be taken step by step. But he will get there he is convinced about it!
How would you describe the ‘Breton Whisky’?
David tells me that this also one of the changes made in the process. In the past they have heard that their whisky was a bit oily and was between an Irish and Lowland style of whisky. This they discovered had to do with the chill filtration. They stopped doing that, and they changed the flavor profile more to Speyside now. David is explaining that he is aiming to a Balvenie kind of flavour profile for the future and wants to work toward that style.
Can you tell me something more on the raw ingredients, and the processes at the distillery?
He explains that they make whisky the way it always has been made and that whisky is a slow process, and it takes time to make an impact on the market. As for the ingredients used for the products coming out of the distillery they look for the raw products coming mostly locally. For the production of barley used for the whisky they have to go to the north of France to get that.
Near the distillery David continues, is the Rest Avel spring, which provides the distillery with an unique water profile. The ground in Brittany consists of granite, while the other parts of France have chalk in the ground. This acidity helps with the fermentation process a lot.
Maturation is done at the distillery in their warehouse, done by palletizing, because it is easier to work with in that way David explains. The only casks who are not palletized are the Sherry Butts, due to the way they are build and the missing hoops on the belly. They have to lie them down otherwise they would collapse.
Want to do some food paring maybe sometime with whisky?
I asked David for some tips on this one. He suggested trying the Millesime with some chocolate mouse. Due to the Sherry sweetness this one is great with coffee and chocolate like tones. The Armorik Classic has a bit maritime notes in it what makes it great with seafood.
There is a lot of science around the making of whisky David tells me. But the bottom line is that it is there to be enjoyed. I have to agree with him on that one, and therefor we went back to the stand at the festival where he let me taste some more of their expressions. He told me to come by the distillery if I wanted to taste more. And I surely will do so! Very nice expressions, and I am looking forward to seeing what comes more out of this distillery.
The Warenghem Distillery in short…
- Leader on the French market
- 3 million euro turnover
- 15 people working at the distillery
- 85% sales in France
- 15% sales in export
- Breton Whisky, the first French Single Malt Whisky to be produced
- Founded at the end of the 19th century
- Family owned business
- Double distillation in traditional copper stills
- 6000 liters semi lauter mash tun
- Four stainless steel wash backs
- 6000 liters wash still
- 3500 liters spirit still
- Production of 100.000 liters of pure alcohol p/y, from where 30% is grain spirit for the blends
Route de Guingamp
22300 Lannion, France