Maison Benjamin Kuentz – Aveux Gourmands

Our absolute favourite from Maison Benjamin Kuentz is their Aveux Gourmands – launched late 2020.

Aveux Gourmands 46% (Maison Benjamin Kuentz)

  • Colour – Light straw
  • Nose – Mmmm….. bubblegum, toffee, salty caramel, a nice nuttiness with roasted hazelnut, fudge… then all combining together in an indulgent salty caramel hazelnut chocolate fudge… as it opened up further came a caramelized banana, pineapple upside down cake, buttery brioche, strawberries and cherries
  • Palate – Buttery salty toffee, spice, fudge, more of that buttery brioche,
  • Finish – Nutty fudge, salted butter toast

Pure decadence! We loved this one! Aromas were yum! A melt in your mouth fudge on the palate, rewarding finish… In short it was luxury… like an indulgent incredibly high calorie desert that you just – must – have!

And what happened when we added water? Just dampened everything – it simply wasn’t the same. And who wants decadence diminished?

And with the glass we left ‘as is’? We let it rest for some time and returned to be rewarded by salty buttery toffee fudge desert in a glass! Who could resist?

Zero doubt this was our favourite of the evening!

What else do we know?

It is aged between in ex Sauternes Grand Cru barrels from Chateau Rayne Vigneau, Bretagne.

The team kindly provided us with further details… Please excuse the rough translation from French:

Gourmet, exotic, salty

Like a confession that you will remember at the tip of your tongue. This whisky is the admission of a small sin of taste. Gourmet on the nose with this mishmash of hazelnuts, honey and cooked fruits. The balance is even more succulent… the fullness of this single malt gently delivers its exotic bouquet. This is perfectly balanced by the salinity of a Breton brandy… making a delicacy that we never tire of. Simple pleasure, sweet complexity. Quiet.

Notes de dégustation

  • Nez – Gourmand, notes de noisettes, de miel et de fruits cuits
  • Bouche – Ample, ronde, saline, notes de noix de coco, d’ananas et de caramel au beurre salé
  • Finale – Amande et noisettes, notes de miel se dissipant sur l’équilibre salin final
  • Pairing suggestions – Gâteau praliné, beurre de cacahuète, carpaccio d’ananas et coco séchée, que de la gourmandise pour un moment d’exception.
It is available in Europe directly from Maison Benjamin Kuentz for EUR 52 for a 500ml bottle. I will confess, I snapped up two bottles – one for our lovely ladies back in India and another for a friend in Canada. Who knows when I will be able to bring either bottle to either country, but at least these bottles will be ready when travel becomes feasible.

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Maison Benjamin Kuentz – Fin de partie

The end of the party is often that time of the evening when most of the guests have gone, just a few remain… often the close friends who also pitch in for the clean-up before you settle down for a final dram, desultory conversation before finally bidding good night. Or at least this is what it (historically!) has been like for us!

So what does this “Fin de partie” from Maison Benjamin Kuentz bring to us?

Fin de partie 46% (Maison Benjamin Kuentz)

  • Colour – Soft gold
  • Nose – Raw cashews reminding us of Goan feni, which began to shift to maple bacon, cured meats, tropical fruits – particularly baked pineapple, then shifted again into floral sweetness, then into cloves, light red chilli oil, cherry chocolate
  • Palate – Initially confusing, intense, spice, cocoa, fruity, a hint of honey glazed ham
  • Finish – Cinnamon spice

For me, the cured meats kept returning however for others, it subsided as our tasting progressed. We really enjoyed how it had such a quixotic character – a little of this, a little of that… elements which contrasted and then combined.

We decided to see how it was with a bit of water…

  • Nose – More prunes and plums, fruitier, now a sherry influence was clearly discernable
  • Palate – Initially spicier, warming and then settled in to become quite rounded
  • Finish – Still has that cinnamon but now slightly bitter, peppery and smoky

Above all, this is one you should let linger… whether with water or without, it really came into its own the more time it spent in the glass.

What else do we know?

It is aged between 6 to 7 years in ex Cognac, Bourbon, Oloroso and PX  barrels, from Lorraine.

And what do they have to say?

Sharing greedy notes with a touch of pepper to make the evenings endless.

Fin de Partie marks the end of the day and celebrates the beginning of happy gatherings. The ones one wouldn’t want to end. This generous single Malt, intense and elegant explodes gourmet flavours. Its nose intrigues with a wood bouquet, chocolate, dried fruits and a touch of pastry with custard notes. Prunes, spices and pepper finish make this Lorraine whisky a little less disciplined than it first appears.

Notes de dégustation

  • Nez – Complexe et intrigant, bonne rondeur Fleuri, fruité (fruits cuits), pâtissier Epicé et boisé
  • Bouche – Epais, gourmand, belle sucrosité Epicé, fruité, cacaoté
  • Finale – Fruits secs, écorce d’orange Epicée et poivrée, céréales torréfiées
  • Pairing suggestions – Les chocolats de chez Carré Victoire ou le Jambon Bellota 5j de la Maison Barthouil

Our sample was purchased from Paris and dispatched to each home. Currently a 500ml bottle sells directly from Maison Benjamin Kuentz for Eur 59.

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Maison Benjamin Kuentz – (D’un) Verre Printanier

We began our explorations with (D’un) Verre Printanier... having every indication of being the lightest of our Maison Benjamin Kuentz trio with its glass of springtime.

(D’un) Verre printanier 46% (Maison Benjamin Kuentz)

  • Colour – Light honey
  • Nose – Well hello pear! Followed by fresh cut grass, light hay, a nice fruity floral vibe… notes of bergamot, then cereals, shifting from pear to white nectarine, rounding things out with white and green peppercorn
  • Palate – Hmm… more of the cereals – think barley, a bit bitter even
  • Finish – There but…

If this whisky had a ‘colour’ it would be a fresh verdant green! Truly quite ‘spring-like’, comes across as young and fresh.

We were tempted to skip adding water as it is already 46%, but thought, why not try? And thank goodness we did. Wow!

  • Nose – Lots of pear returns, dripping with honey, and the floral? Think dew on honeysuckle. Vanilla custard, marshmallows
  • Palate – Delicious! Yes there is a bright pepper yet also toffee
  • Finish – Sweet pepper

Without water, it came across as a bit ‘young’ or ‘raw’… with a splash of water, the cereals  disappeared into the background, allowing the sweet fruity floral elements to really shine.

Overall we found this whisky fresh and fun. A brilliant way to whet the appetite for more!

What else do we know?

It is aged between 5 to 7 years in ex Cognac and ex Bourbon barrels from Lorraine.

And what do they have to say?

A sunny, fresh, supple and surprising whisky.

(D’un) Verre Printanier will surprise you with its lightness and freshness. Such as nature when it rises, this Single Malt from the Mirabelle plum country will awake you to new fragrances and colors. It distinguishes itself with a well-defined taste between rough flavour and fragrance but keeps its secrecy that will keep you on tenterhooks. The dominant feature is fruity with subtle notes of white fruits and fresh cereal with a spicy finish and a nice softness. An open air olfactory promenade off the beaten track.

Tasting notes (rough translation)

  • Nose – White flowers, orchard fruits (pear in particular). Notes of cereals and fresh herbs, slightly spicy 
  • Palate – Crunchy attack, very supple. Fruity (pear again, but also notes of yellow fruits, such as plums), vegetal
  • Finish – Malty, slightly spicy, airy, which whets the appetite. Maintained tension, which makes you want to come back
  • Pairing suggestions – Baltic salmon from Barthouil or oysters from n°3 de la Maison Legris

Original notes de dégustation

  • Nez – Fleurs blanches, fruits du verger (la poire en particulier) Notes de Céréales et d’herbes fraîches, légèrement épicé
  • Bouche – Attaque croquante, toute en souplesse. Fruité (poire encore, mais aussi des notes de fruits jaunes, comme la mirabelle), végétal
  • Finale – Maltée, légèrement épicée, aérienne, qui ouvre l’appétit Une tension maintenue, qui donne envie d’y revenir
  • Pairing suggestions – Saumon baltique de chez Barthouil ou les huîtres n°3 de la Maison Legris

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Maison Benjamin Kuentz – Introduction

Late 2020 we kicked off a series of virtual sessions fuelled initially by my acquisition of some bottles from North Star and Chorlton. As brilliant as these were, we were hungry for new experiences. Given one of lovely ladies relocated from Mumbai to Paris, it seemed only natural to want to explore more from France.

The host of our 5th session decided to get creative and reached out to Mangali at Maison Benjamin Kuentz to purchase a trio for tasting. Very kindly, these samples were instead sent to us only with the cost of shipping.

As for what we thought? We were so impressed in December that we requested an opportunity to re-taste with the folks from Maison Benjamin Kuentz, curious to have all our questions answered!

Here is our intro to the core trio from Maison Benjamin Kuentz

What we discovered is a philosophy, a clear vision behind the approach which goes beyond selecting an interest cask, instead to evoking a certain thought for aroma and flavour profile, then experimenting until a recipe achieves that result.

Anything we speculated was overshadowed by the experience. Particularly the Aveux Gourmands was pure indulgence in a glass….

Enabling more bottles of limited liquid, Maison uses 500ml bottles – with prices ranging from EUR 52 to 75. I purchased a bottle of Aveux Gourmands for Mumbai and it was the 1st whisky I sipped and enjoyed in the new year – from my quarantine hotel room overlooking the Arabian sea…

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Vita Dulcis 9 – France’s Armorik Double Maturation 46%

I first tried this whisky in 2017 at Whisky Live Singapore as part of a trio of Armorik’s standards – Blended Grain, Classic, and Double Matured.

Since then, I’ve been curious to try more if and when the opportunity presents. When I purchased the Vita Dulcis 2020 Whiskey International Advent Calendar, it was specifically for the strong European representation in the offerings. My hope was this Armorik would be something new, however I was equally happy to revisit the Double Matured too.

Same approach as before – the whisky is double matured between local french oak barrels and ex-sherry casks for an undisclosed number of years.

What did I find the in 2020 version?

FranceArmorik Double Maturation 46%

  • Nose – Much like I found before – light cereal, apples with a citrus twist, honey sweetness
  • Palate – Oh! This was unexpected! It started off good and spicy. Then settled down, woody, apple sauce with light cinnamon
  • Finish – Spice comes back, mellowing into honey with almost a touch of smoke or bitterness at the tail end

Is it complex? No. But is it interesting? Yes.

I sampled this a night after being introduced to another trio from France – courtesy of Maison Benjamin Kuentz. I couldn’t help but compare the two “Bretagne” offerings – Aveux Gourmand (sheer divine decadence!) and the more restrained Armorik Double Maturation. More on Maison Benjamin Kuentz in the coming weeks but suffice to say… my interest in French whisky is fully re-piqued!

As for Armorik? After 20 years, their bottle label design got a nice refresh in 2018 – clean, straight forward and far more elegant than their earlier label.

And the price? It has risen a bit – now in the EUR 48 – 58 range – however not something that will ‘break the bank.’

Curious to know more? Just check out what the folks at Armorik have to say. Or check out my encounters with Warenghem distillery:

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Vita Dulcis 8 – France’s Bellevoye Peat 43%

This is my first introduction to Bellevoye from France, thanks to my purchase of the Vita Dulcis 2020 International Advent Calendar.

As the label only identified this as “tourbée” (peaty), I reached out to find out more. Steven Baily Gibson from Les Bienheureux kindly helped confirm that the “tourbee” edition is “Noir”. More on that after my tasting…

France – Bellevoye Tourbee 43%

  • Colour – Golden hay
  • Nose – Sour cherries, almost liquor like, sweet spices of cloves, all spice and most of all cinnamon
  • Palate – Surprisingly smooth, a delightful and pronounced cinnamon, spiced apple crumble, fruity
  • Finish – More cinnamon spice, quite fruity

Overall this was a cinnamon candy – with peat! A promising start and after looking at their other profiles, would be interested in exploring further.

So what more do we know about Black? It is a blend of three ‘peaty’ Single Malt whiskies from Lorraine, Alsace, Nord, aged for 5-10 years in French Oak casks and then a secondary maturation – nine to 12 months post-blend – in French new oak casks particularly prepared and selected for this whisky.

The peat levels are not intense – around 45 p.p.m – and the distilleries are also not disclosed. My guess would be for Lorraine – Rozelieures – which is certainly putting out directly and indirectly some whiskies well worth exploring further.

As for Alsace? I couldn’t say for sure – so far we’ve only sampled one AWA Pinot Noir which wouldn’t be a good indicator for the profile in this Bellevoye expression. There is also Lehman’s, Meyer’s, plus an assortment of others.

And North? It all depends on whether “North” in this context also includes Bretagne with Werenghem and Glann ar Mor

Which ever the distillery, the plan seems to be to continue to work with three, crafting two batches per year, blending together with an aim to achieve a profile of:

“Complexity, fullness, balance and length.”

And what do the folks at Bellevoye share in their official tasting notes?

  • The intense nose reveals empyreumatic notes that evoke both ashes, toast and moka. Subtle touches of spices (cinnamon, nail clove) and liquorice reinforce its complexity.​
  • The mouth is thick, mellow and oily. Its salinity gives it a fresh and harmonious balance. Its structure is coated thanks to its elegant tannins.
  • The finish is long and persistent on aromas peat characteristics.​

It is available in Germany for EUR 48 – 59, depending on distributor. For my part, I was happy to have a chance to have this included in my miniatures explorations.

Curious about other encounters with French whisky?

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A delightful desert whisky – Brenne Cuvée Spéciale 40%

We wanted to start our Tasting with something lighter, summery, sweetly satisfying…  delightful desert dram influenced by maturation in a Cognac cask.

I shared with my fellow tasting companion Alison Parc‘s story – from ballet to booze, America to Europe (with an ex desi connect too). With her focus on terroir with barley, use of French Limosine Oak and ex Cognac casks, she’s pulled off a distinctively feminine style… I remembered how much the Whisky Ladies enjoyed the Brenne Estate Cask, which lead me to be confident this would be a terrific start to our tasting.

Brenne Cuvée Spéciale 40%

  • Nose – Initially greeted with apple blossoms, overripe bananas, a touch of cinnamon spice, then the banana became even more prominent – inviting us to indulge in banana cream pie… we kept returning to find shifting deserts and sweets… from bannoffee pie to a banana strawberry smoothie to candied fruit to lightly salted taffy popcorn, creme brûlée
  • Palate – So silky smooth, pure liquid desert in a glass, banana toffee, pineapple, milky Parsi toffees, french pastries… was that a hint of coconut? Light coco? Whatever the different elements, it is simply delicious!
  • Finish – Drying yet delightful… softly sweet tail…

We came back for a 2nd round with the last drops of our sample and delighted in the bubblegum… yes bubblegum! In this case, it is more than just a childhood flashback, it somehow manages to be playful and elegant at the same time. Frothy but not completely frivolous. Certainly not classically Scottish yet still very classy.

To be honest I’m not sure if the Cuvée Spéciale is simply a different branding in the UK for what was available as Estate Cask in the US. When we compared our experience with the Whisky Ladies in 2017, it could have been the same – just with much more banana in our tasting than found earlier. This could be due to Brenne’s approach to bottle from a single cask or be a ‘sister’ expression.

Our mini came as part of the Master of Malt 2019 Advent Calendar and was tasted one fine weekend in Dunkerton, Somerset. And while I can’t speak for its availability in all parts of the world, it seems to be relatively accessible in the UK, Europe and USA – in the range of GBP 55 or so.

The chaps at Master of Malt have this to say… and I’m inclined to agree:

  • Nose: Vanilla flowers arrive on the nose first, paired with pear drops and dried mango.
  • Palate: Brandied cherry and red rope liquorice. More vanilla, a hint of cinnamon spiciness and Nutella.
  • Finish: Chocolate raisins, pineapple and coconut ice.

A lovely start to a most civilized evening of exploring a few drams in Dunkerton.

What other French drams have made their way to our collective tasting adventures?

France

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Exploring experiments in barley, wheats and more!

One fine evening, two gents and I decided to go on a journey of (re)-discovery… new for them, repeats for me… a series of whiskies deliberately chosen for their terriore, experiments in barley, wheats and more…

I warned my companions to not expect standard Scottish malts but instead calibrate their palates to more rustic, less sophisticated fare… and appreciate each for their unique qualities.

What did they think?

Worth exploring yet simply reinforced their preference for a traditional Scottish single malt!

PS – You can read tasting notes by clicking on the links above.

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European Explorations – Domaine des Hautes Glace, DeCavo, Swiss Highland, Gouden Carolus, Puni

Over the last few years, I’ve had a few opportunities to explore European whiskies… so much so that I created a separate page devoted just for whiskies with European origins.

I will also admit that the novelty factor is often higher than the quality factor. Hence I knew I was taking a gamble with this particular quartet – acquired over a few years for the Bombay Malt & Cigar gentlemen.

What did we try?

And just because I happened to have an open bottle, I shared a snifter of Bretagne’s Buckwheat whisky Eddu Silver 40%. It was quickly quaffed, pronounced like calvados and we moved on to the main event!

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Armorik’s Bretan Whiskies – Breizh, Armorik Classic + Double Matured

The great thing about going to any Whisky industry event is an opportunity to try a range of whiskies – including those you would be unlikely to buy. Even better is when there is a chance to sample drams you would otherwise find challenging to encounter.

I first sampled an Armorik whisky from the Warengham distillery in Bretagne in June 2015 at La Maison du Whisky, Singapore. It was the Classic and while it didn’t compel me to add it to the final selection from that shopping expedition, it certainly was no disaster. Since then, I’ve had limited encounters and none with an opportunity to try a trio side-by-side.

For those unfamiliar with the brand and distillery, there is a 100 year distillation history in creating elixirs and other spirits, expanding into launching whisky blends in the late 1980s and single malts late 1990s.

So what did I try at Whisky Live Singapore 2017?

Breizh Blended Grain 42%

  • Nose – Young, lightly malty, sweet
  • Palate – Soft, hint of cinnamon, cereals
  • Finish – Minimalist, light spice

While fleeting, the impression was of something light, young, nothing offensive but nothing drawing me into it further either.

And what do the folks at the distillery have to add?

50% grain, 50% malt. The double distillation in copper stills is followed by an ageing in traditional oak casks, all matured by the climate with a particular climate in Brittany. Here are a few of the factors that now lead Distillerie Warenghem to offer this excellent Blended Whisky at 42% ABV. Breizh is a famous cousin of the WB, which was the first Breton Whisky. EUR 35.

Armorik Classic 46%

  • Nose – Lots of cereals, fruit, vanilla
  • Palate – Again quite soft, light, fruit, almost a hint of smoke, woodsy… reminded just a bit of a Japanese whisky matured in French Oak
  • Finish – Has quite a sharp spice that grows stronger – not in an unpleasant way but hard to ignore

It wasn’t quite what I remembered – quite a bit more approachable and I was informed they have ‘tinkered’ with the target whisky style to achieve just this easier to access element.

What do the Warengham folks have to add?

Cornerstone of the range, ARMORIK Classic comprises the best of our cellars in a highly refined edition. As a marriage of sherry and bourbon casks of different ages, it highlights the quality of the ageing on the Breton Coasts and the expertise of our cellar manager. This ARMORIK Classic comes in a non-chill filtered version, thus refining its aromatic qualities. EUR 41.

Armorik Double Maturation 46%

  • Nose – Light cereal, less of the spice, more citrusy
  • Palate – Soft, fruity, an almost apple sauce quality, woody oak
  • Finish – Spice burn with a light fruity finish

The Warenghem is double matured in Oak and Sherry casks, which would have lead one to believe even more of the Sherry character would have infused the whisky. Whereas it was a light touch.

What more do the producers of Armorik have to say?

Genuine symbol of the Distillery’s values, this Armorik highlights both the quality of its know-how and its attachment to the Breton land. In partnership with a local cooper, the Distillery designed unique Brittany oak casks. Armorik Double Maturation remains in them for many long years before being transferred into Oloroso sherry casks for a second maturation. Reduced to 46% and non-chill filtered, it pleases through its richness and elegance. EUR 46.80.

To be honest, the Armorik Classic was for me the most enjoyable of the trio. It was my introduction to this range and would remain the one I would suggest folks start if exploring whiskies from Warengham. You also have to appreciate their price point – they are very much keeping their whiskies in the affordable range.

For all, I was informed though providing No Age Statement (NAS), each was matured for a minimum of 5 years. What I would like to try next is something a little older, preferably cask strength… like their 12 year or 13 year. Let’s see if such an opportunity presents itself one of these years…

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