CHATEAU DE LAUBADE ARMAGNAC L’UNIQUE #2
Finished in a single ex-Armagnac cask used by Bardstown Bourbon Co. (2021)
MASH BILL – blend of 50% Baco and 50% Ugni Blanc grape varietals
PROOF – 96.8
AGE – two casks of 8-year Armagnac (Distilled 11/2011) blended and then finished for 8 additional months (Bottled 02/2021)
DISTILLERY – Chateau De Laubade
PRICE – $71
WORTH BUYING? – Yes
BARDSTOWN BOURBON CO. CHATEAU DE LAUBADE II
Finished in Chateau De Laubade Armagnac casks (2022)
MASH BILL – blend of: 84% corn, 8% rye, 8% malted barley / 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% malted barley
PROOF – 107
AGE – blend of 10-year Tennessee bourbon and 12-year Kentucky bourbon
DISTILLERY – Bardstown Bourbon Co. (sourcing from KY and TN)
PRICE – $164
WORTH BUYING? – Oh yes
I can remember seeing the first batch of Bardstown Bourbon Co’s Chateau De Laubade sitting on a shelf and me thinking, Nah, kinda expensive, and leaving it there. Then friends and whiskey social medites began to raise their eyebrows about it. Very soon it was impossible to find, and very soon after that it was already legendary. I’d missed the window.
That first batch did sound good. MGP bourbon aged a nice round 12 years and finished expertly in Armagnac casks, a brandy style often pointed to as a bourbon lover’s brandy. But when this second batch came out, fans of the first furrowed their brows instead of raising them—Tennessee whiskey was in the mix, which almost inevitably means George Dickel.
George Dickel gets a bad rap. The main objection is two pronged: (1) their whiskeys are ubiquitously sourced by Non-Distiller Producers nationwide, and (2) the flavor profile features what some call a “Flintstone’s Vitamin” note. But I think the latest master distiller, Nicole Austin, is gradually and steadily turning these objections around. Among her initiatives are the Bottled in Bond and Single Barrel releases, featuring double-digit age statements at great prices; the introduction of the 8-year, provocatively named Dickel Bourbon, abruptly dropping the traditional “Tennessee Whiskey” term; and an intriguing collaboration with Leopold Bros, blending the latter’s Three Chamber Rye with Dickel’s own yet-to-be-released Column Still Rye.
I’ll admit to having felt a wave of cynicism myself toward George Dickel, back in 2019, when a rash of NDPs like Smooth Ambler and Resilient were charging three-digit prices for teenaged sourced Dickel, and then suddenly Dickel came out with their 13-year Bottled in Bond offering at a fraction of the price. But as I sampled Austin’s various expansions of the Dickel repertoire, I soon let that cynical wave pass, realizing it was misdirected. George Dickel isn’t the issue. NDPs are the issue, charging stupid prices for whiskey they merely bought and bottled, which Austin and her crew were putting out themselves with careful curation shaped by intimate, hands-on distilling knowledge. George Dickel 15 Year Single Barrel for $60? Heck yes! Resilient 15 Year Single Barrel for $100+? No thanks.
Returning to the Bardstown Bourbon Co’s Laubade Batch 2, the Dickel worries of Batch 1 fans meant the window of opportunity to nab a bottle remained open a tad longer than it might have otherwise, and I was able to get a bottle.
As luck would have it, the store also happened to have a couple bottles of a 2021 Chateau De Laubade Armagnac, dubbed “L’Unique, The Traveling Barrels.” Decently aged at 8+ years, the Armagnac was then finished in one of the very same casks they’d sent to Kentucky for that first collaboration with Bardstown. Those casks were then shipped back to France and put to use again by Chateau De Laubade. What an interesting opportunity, I thought, to compare this Bardstown release and its directly related collaborative partner.
So here we are, one week after uncorking and four pours into each bottle. These brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn for the bourbon, and a simple brandy glass for the Armagnac.
CHATEAU DE LAUBADE
COLOR – a glowing spectrum of soft sunset oranges
NOSE – a rich white grape note both zingy and juicy, with baking-spiced caramel, light and vibrant oak, lemon zest, faint cream
TASTE – sweeter and more immediately syrupy on the pallet than the nose had quite suggested, with the caramel notes emerging in greater balance with those rich grape notes, some chocolate syrup as well, everything wrapped in a cozy warmth
FINISH – the warmth prickles just a bit as it gently fades, and the flavors tilt back toward the dryness of the nose, leaving a syrupy coating to linger behind on the palate with grape, oak, and chocolate.
OVERALL – a lovely, dark, syrupy pour that leaves me understanding why bourbon enthusiasts are often pointed toward Armagnac as a brandy they might enjoy
COLOR – a glowing spectrum of soft russet oranges
NOSE – musty and dusty in an exceptionally lovely antique way, with smooooth oak and something like a dark Muscat grape note submerged in chocolatey caramel.
TASTE – very true to the nose, with a heightening of the sweet notes from both the fruit and candy elements, the chocolatey caramel now really taking the lead, and in the end a nice bloom of mint pairing perfectly with the chocolate
FINISH – an initial brightening brings on some crackling fire from the proof, then everything settles back down to a cozy smolder, with that musty dusty antique quality washing over dark grape, mint, and chocolate-caramel syrup
OVERALL – elegant, decadent, rustic, and refined
Well now! It should be no surprise that these pair very well. I tried the Armagnac first, then the bourbon, before comparing them side by side. They are united by their core chocolatey-caramel notes. The grape notes are naturally much more prominent in the Armagnac, making a perfect cameo appearance in the bourbon. The bourbon deepens the darker aspects of the aromas and flavors, accenting them with that elegant sprig of mint. In returning to France, the bourbon-influenced Armagnac casks then seem to have imparted something of their darker caramel notes to the brandy.
Given the Armagnac’s brighter and lighter quality, it makes both an experience unto itself and a glowing introduction to the higher-proof bourbon. The bourbon then leans in like a great storyteller, spinning its tale with wit, nuance, showmanship, and depth.
I can’t compare this second Bardstown Laubade collab with the first, so I won’t even make guesses. Taken on its own, this fine blend of well-aged Kentucky and Tennessee whiskeys, supported by the exceptional Armagnac casks, is easily among the most balanced and delicious finished bourbons I’ve enjoyed to date.
Similarly, I can’t compare Chateau De Laubade’s L’Unique #2 to any of their past offerings. It’s a stellar intro. My Armagnac experience is limited, so I could be naive when I say this is exceptional. But for me it’s exactly that.
This is a pairing I’ll enjoy sharing with friends. It’s interesting on multiple levels—as two comparable tasting experiences, as a window into the creative process of finishing spirits in secondary casks, and as an example of international exchange. Cultures create foods and beverages that serve them in their climates and their temperaments. These two blends of Southwestern French and Southeastern American sensibilities reveal the wit, the sense for pleasure, and a particular earthy elegance valued by both regions.
Cheers and Santé!