This very small batch French single malt whisky, finished in Cognac barrels, opens with aromas of green banana soufflé bubblegum, inspiring visions of a laboratory hidden in the bowels of Willy Wonka’s factory, accessible via a musical lock (you have to play the first two chords of “Smoke on the Water” left-handed on a Latvian lute). And in this laboratory, Willy’s adopted stepbrother (all the Oompa Loompas call him “Hubba Bubba“) is given free rein to develop eccentric, flavor-packed chewing gums to replace the 3 course dinner chewing gum that made ultimately made Violet turn violet (violet!). This one begins, as already mentioned, as an appetizer only one of Ferran Adrià’s demented henchmen could conceptualize, but then it turns into an ethereal sachet of Herbes de Quahog. It’d be really weird if it weren’t so clearly the work of a goalpost-moving whisky genius–and by that, I mean either a) God, for having seen fit to cause certain Cognac casks to do such incredible things to single malt whisky, or b) the kind of genius who moves goalposts by training an army of ferrets and another of moles to compete against each other to see which can surreptitiously move its post furthest first. By option b), might I be referring to Allison Regnault Patel, the Owner and President of Brenne Whisky? I’m not sure myself, but if one sees a picture like this one, it’s hard to imagine that Mme Patel is not making an example out of the losers.
On the palate, this whisky begins like a bananacicle, but then morphs slowly into flavors reminiscent of licking up the remains of a pecan pie and ice cream sans crust from a tile floor, à la David Hasselhof on home video (if you don’t know what I mean, look it up). In other words, tremendous. Butter brickle oozes into the round, rhapsodic finish with an eternal coda. It’s an endlessly existential finish ideal for French soldiers…or graduate students. But in a good way: it gets under your skin the way ennui gets into the tilt of a hipster’s little hat (that is, one ultimately wants it there). Or to translate that into Bill’s hedonese: it’s concentrated Cognac syrup poured over a crêpe and scarfed with reckless abandon, only to find the cognac has burned its signature into your palate, so that you can just smack on it lightly from now until next Tuesday.
Add water, and Hubba’s influence fades, but Willy Wonka’s hand remains on the tiller (but to be clear, I mean Gene Wilder Wonka, not that more recent heresy). In fact, water seems to Scot it up a bit, like an oil painting of Mel Gibson in full William Wallace war colors hanging in a Speyside-themed restaurant. It’s undeterred by conventional wisdom, and it’s still a party, even if an edgier one. Willy Wonka would be proud.
The Brenne French Single Malt Whisky is Gene Wilder’s performance as Willy Wonka–By turns, he’s warmly kind towards and barely tolerant of the children in the film, singing lullabye-like songs to them one moment and terrifying them with horrific imagery the next. Is there a character in a children’s story who’s more nuanced and amazing without being annoying or overly peevish (see The Grinch)? Of course there isn’t.
–Our thanks to Allison Regnault Patel and Brenne Whisky for the sample!