Of the interesting expressions Barrell Craft Spirits has presented us, Armida might be one of the least discussed. Dovetail, being the first Barrell product I heard of that wasn’t a traditional whiskey blend, drew a considerable amount of attention thanks to its unique triple-cask finish. Then there was last year’s Seagrass, topping many whiskey lists for 2021, so much so that Barrell are already preparing a 20-year version hot on the heels of the just-released 16-year iteration. Armida sits somewhat awkwardly between its predecessor and successor, which may be a bit of a shame.
The idea behind Armida is both simple and ambitious: make a dream whiskey come to fruition. “What flavors and aromas are we most excited to find in bourbon? Where in the world of spirits do those flavors exist? Can we finish and blend whiskeys to tease the subtle flavors we are looking for from the edges of perception into the forefront?” As with Dovetail, Armida allegedly took over a year for Barrell to get right. The end result is a blend of three straight bourbons finished separately in three casks: pear brandy, Jamaican rum, and Sicilian amaro. We’re all but certainly dealing with a wild concoction, so let’s see what it has to offer.
Nose: Fruity syrup atop a bourbon-y base with vanilla and caramel. Crispy honeyed biscuit, apricot, and marmalade. Caramel candy with fig and darker brown sugars. Hints of clove and freshly lit tobacco.
Palate: Molasses and bitters soon followed by a building spicy licorice. Quite herbal with clove and pepper. Begin to pull out black cherry and a dark peach note. Eventually get sticky, burnt toffee.
Finish: Starts out dry with lingering herbal notes before a slow, faint sweetness emerges. Lychee and more licorice with a hint of mint. Leaves me feeling refreshed, but also dried out. Start to get apricot preserves after multiple sips.
Talk about being sidewinded. First impressions with Armida are that it smells par for the course when one thinks of finished bourbon. It’s rich without feeling overdone and contains subtle herbal traits that deepen the introduction. Then I sipped and promptly did that horizontal movement with my face to shake off the surprise. I have next to no experience with the casks Armida is finished in, but the overwhelming spice and licorice flavors make me suspect the amaro. It’s to the point that I get Jagermeister flashbacks. Obviously that comparison brings certain associations with it, but if I’m being completely transparent, Jagermeister never bothered me. In fact, even in my earlier drinking days I found the German liqueur to be oddly enjoyable. Similar can be said of Armida. The experience is ultimately unlike anything else I’ve tried which, from a certain perspective, makes it even more interesting than Dovetail.
Speaking of Dovetail, I suggested that evaluating it based on a 2 ounce sample seemed unfair. That goes doubly for Armida. Only after finishing my sample did I begin to get a grasp on what it could fully present. Herbs and licorice may be the theme of this review, but there’s definitely more going on. I wouldn’t say my sample of Armida pushes me as close to buying a bottle, mostly because Dovetail’s profile eventually catered to what I currently enjoy. Armida caters more to what I appreciate, but am seldom in the mood for. It’s this dilemma that makes Armida every bit as interesting as it is niche. In other words, it’s a fun product that’s incredibly hard to recommend for a blind purchase.