[PLEASE SEE CRUCIAL ADDENDUM TO THIS REVIEW AT BOTTOM]
If vous are like moi, you certainly don’t associate France with whisky (or even with whiskey). Cognac and brandies, to be sure, but not the kind of whiskies one might order on the rocks or mix with soda and guzzle while gobbling peanuts or potato chips. So very un-French. Indeed, the one time that yours truly visited France, I tried ordering some favored spirits on the rocks, and was disappointed; the portions were skimpy, the glasses were inappropriate, the ice was bad, and the drink just plain didn’t feel right while sitting on a sidewalk in Paris. I soon realized that one should not try to drink like an American while in France. Instead, drink like the French do: alternate red wine with cappucinos, act blasé, and take August off.
Yet, it turns out that French whiskies do exist, and, like so many things both good and bad these days, they appear to be multiplying uncontrollably.
Let’s try to get a handle on at least one, recently encountered, which goes by the name of “Bastille.” The large “1789” on the bottle does not refer to the origins of the whiskey, which are considerably more recent, but instead to an event known as the French Revolution. (I suppose they don’t mind if a few impulse-buyers are fooled.)
It is described as a “hand-crafted whisky,” distilled from wheat and barley, and utilizing water “naturally filtered for centuries through Grande Champagne limestone.” It is a blended whisky. It is aged in wood casks, “including the most luxurious French Limousin oak.”
Cutting to the chase, I do like this whisky. [Please see important addendum to this review at bottom]
It is exceptionally smooth and very pleasantly complex. Its smoothness and subtlety is such that although I usually enjoy my favorite whiskies with a little ice or water, in this case it instantly appears to be a mistake to dilute it with any H2O. In my perception adding water makes Bastille taste commonplace instead, and too sweet.
Savored neat, maybe you’ll pick up some of the “long, orange bread crust, peach cobbler, peppery spice and limestone accented finish” attested to by the “International Review of Spirits” who awarded it a gold medal. But, if you don’t like to think that hard about your whisky, maybe you’ll just find it to be quite nice.
The makers claim that “some of the world’s finest Scotch producers” obtain their malt from the same area of France as do the distillers of Bastille, but I would not compare this whisky to any Scotch that I know. I would compare it instead to some of the very best blended Irish whiskies out there.
The Bastille website further suggests recipes for cocktails such as a “Manhattan Bastille,” a “Bastille Sour,” etcetera. If it floats your boat to pursue novelty in cocktails, you might go that route, but personally when I try to put together cocktails I aim for something as close to the classic variety as possible, which you will not obtain with a whisky that tastes like this. And, again referring to the subtlety and complexity of this whiskey, it seems to me that it would be simply barbaric to mix it with anything at all.
Of-course, at one time, the Gauls were barbarians. They might well have enjoyed making their Manhattans with Bastille, while taking a break from brutalizing the decadent Romans.
However, this Manhattanite, barbaric Yank though he may be, will continue enjoying his Bastille straight-up.
Vive la France.
Rating: Eight out of ten lead pipes.
Important Addendum 07/15/2014: The review above was based on drinking from at least two different bottles of Bastille over the course of an extended period. One is naturally accustomed to the notion that the flavor of spirits is consistent from one bottle to the next, and from year to year. Yet, I have since had a not-very-pleasant surprise with Bastille. I acquired a new bottle (stamped 11/26/13 LOT BA 005) and on pouring and sipping was convinced that it was not the same spirit I drank before and reviewed above. My better half, an even bigger fan of Bastille than moi, vigorously attests to the same thing. What is in this bottle tastes very much more like a scotch. And one that we don’t like. But more importantly, it is just NOT the same thing. That’s an upsetting experience to have, not knowing what the heck you are drinking. I e-mailed a contact on the Bastille website about it weeks ago, but have received no response. So, under the circumstances, and despite my praise for it in the original review, I do not intend to purchase Bastille Whiskey again and could not in good conscience recommend it to anyone else.