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February 27, 2015


From Alsace, five Alsatian whiskies

Alsatian malt whiskies just got their European IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée), which means that any ‘Whisky d’Alsace’ now needs to have been integrally made in Alsace from mashing to ageing, aged in oak for a minimum of three years (while further ageing in other woods is permitted) and… tah-dah, bottled without caramel! Now, apart from the caramel bit, not 100% sure all that was necessary, as Alsatian whisky is actually anything but traditional. And as many seem to use column stills, not exactly the best way to come up with characterful spirit. But hey, why not! Let’s have a few of them today, including some that just won medals at this week’s Concours Générale Agricole de Paris 2015…

Elsass Whisky (40%, OB, Lehman, France, Alsace, single malt, +/-2014)

Elsass Whisky (40%, OB, Lehman, France, Alsace, single malt, +/-2014) Two stars and a half This one’s around 7 years old and was matured in white Bordeaux casks. It just won Gold in Paris, and indeed I had found an earlier version quite palatable back in 2008 (WF 77). Colour: gold. Nose: very fruity, with clear and loud Williams pears in the front, and a bit of vanilla and warm sawdust in the background. There are a few more fruits after that, such as apples and stewed rhubarb, but the pears keep living the good life. I’m not against that, I like pears a lot. And soft vanilla. Mouth: all in keeping with the nose. These good people are fruit distillers, no wonder their whiskies are full of the same fruits (does that make any sense, S.?) So pears, pears and pears, coated with custard and a little cinnamon from the oak. What I enjoy is the purity here. Finish: relatively short, soft and fruity. You guessed it, on pears. Comments: I’m not totally sure an IGP was mandatory, as this doesn’t have much to do with classic whisky as the Scots, the Irish or the Japanese make, but on the other hand, I think it’s excellent, clean, fresh and fruity aged spirit. For next summer. SGP:730 - 79 points.

Rozelieures (40%, OB, Grallet Dupic, France, Lorraine, single malt, +/-2014)

Rozelieures (40%, OB, Grallet Dupic, France, Lorraine, single malt, +/-2014) Two stars Right, Lorraine isn’t Alsace. They’re our neighbours/cousins from the West. Well in fact we will soon live in the same mega-region, as our very wise government has just decided to amalgamate Alsace, Lorraine, and Champagne. I don’t quite know what will happen with the brand new Alsatian IGP ;-). Another version by Rozelieures, a peaty one it seems, just won another Gold medal in Paris. This one was matured in sherry wood. For how long, I don’t know. Colour: gold. Nose: more oak and more spices in this one, less lightness, more heaviness (bravo, S.), with caraway, sloe, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg… Also whiffs of grape pips oil, then the expected vanilla. Tarte tatin. Touches of menthol. Mouth: much, much, much more whisky-ish than the Elsässer, fatter (but the Alsatian was very light), less fruity, spicier again, with a faint smoke, some cloves and cumin, some ashes, even a touch of salt, gingerbread, cinnamon mints… Finish: rather short, a notch sugary perhaps. Ashes in the aftertaste. Comments: frankly, this is quite okay. The oak feels a bit, while the spirit isn’t very big on the palate. Perhaps more balance… SGP:551 - 75 points.

AWA ‘Cuvée Kuentz-Bas’ (43%, OB, France, Alsace, single malt, +/-2014)

AWA ‘Cuvée Kuentz-Bas’ (43%, OB, France, Alsace, single malt, +/-2014) Two stars AWA means Authentique Whisky Alsace. They buy malt whisky from Hepp Distillery and finish it in various Alsatian wine casks, in this case Pinot Gris from the house Kuentz-Bas. Not something very easy to do as traditionally, only pinot noir is matured in transportable oak casks in Alsace (as opposed to massive tuns). Colour: gold. Nose: why do I rather get gewurz? I mean roses, litchis and all that? It’s like opening a large box of Turkish delights. This isn’t unpleasant at all, quite the contrary, but the whole experience is rather akin to nosing a glass of good gewürztraminer Vendanges Tardives, seriously. Old style perfume. Mouth: very weird, but not in a bad way. You just have to forget that this is supposed to be whisky. Violette sweets, blood oranges, more Turkish delights, orange blossom, more litchis, plus cloves and white pepper. Good body. Finish: long and violetty. Pears in the aftertaste. Comments: a true UFW (unidentified flying whisky). Very hard to score, because we’re so far from our base. A ‘whisky’ that’s got energy, for sure, and that’s really worth trying in any case. I’ll see if I can find an AWA gewurz finish ;-). SGP:741 - 75 points.

Meyer’s Blend Supérieur (40%, OB, France, Alsace, blend, +/-2014)

Meyer’s Blend Supérieur (40%, OB, France, Alsace, blend, +/-2014) Two stars The Meyer family’s been smart and fast and managed to take control of a large part of the Alsatian whisky industry (but is that an industry). And, of course, to get a high score from that writer in that holy guide. We know how that works, don’t we. Today you see Meyer’s bottles everywhere all over Alsace and I say well done. As for this blend supérieur, not too sure the word supérieur/superior means much. Colour: gold. Nose: the closest to a Scottish blend, for sure. Some caramel, sawdust, vanilla, a bit of malt, some maple syrup, a touch of honey, a little toasted oak, some beer, some malt… And that works. Mouth: same, this could be VAT69, or Passport, or any other large-ish brand. It’s just a tad fruitier and lighter on the palate, that may be the column still. Nothing to complain about. Finish: not that short, clean, fruity, with some toast bread, oak, biscuit… A touch of peppered orange in the aftertaste. Comments: drink this blind and you’ll think it’s Scotch. Or maybe a blend of Scotch and Canadian. SGP:451 - 74 points.

Meyer’s Pur Malt (40%, OB, France, Alsace, single malt, +/-2014)

Meyer’s Pur Malt (40%, OB, France, Alsace, single malt, +/-2014) Two stars and a half That’s the single malt by Meyer’s. Alsatians still believe that ‘pur(e) malt’ means ‘single malt’ ;-). Colour: full gold. Nose: we’re much closer to Lehman’s Elsass Whisky, this is much less Scottish than the blend, with more fruits again, although I wouldn’t call this an eau-de-vie-ish malt whisky. I especially detect melons and peaches, both fresh and cooked, as well as some acacia honey. More and more acacia honey… It is a light, fresh, pretty sexy nose I have to say. Tinned fruits. Mouth: as often the distillate is a tad light to stand this much newish oak, in this case ex-wine casks I believe, but beyond the cinnamon that’s a notch predominant, the fruity/honeyed development works rather well. It’s got something slightly Sauternesy (mirabelles, apricots) and keeps developing on more complex flavours, such as tea, tobacco and eucalyptus. That’s good. Finish: good length, with these leafy notes that will prevent it from getting too sweet. The aftertaste is a little drying. Comments: quite liked this one. By the way, the Meyers have built a brand new museum named La Maison du Distillateur just outside Châtenois. It’s a neat and tidy place and next time you’re in Alsace, you should go there. You might even learn a few things about… Scotch! SGP:651 - 77 points.

So, we might still miss some really high-end whisky makers in Alsace (such as Glann ar Mor in Brittany) but before that happens, I guess someone will have to invest in a pair of proper pot stills. No, not Charentais and not even more Holsteins, however good they are. And was an IGP really worth it, given the fact that all those whiskies are so wildly different? Would anyone be able to taste these whiskies blind and identify them as… Alsatian? Ja awwer! Discuss… ;-).



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