MONDAY 1ST AUGUST 2022 | BY SAM WILSON, SOHO STORE MANAGER
This is a story about passion and creativity, a man who conquered a category that he had no right to explore - a true maverick. Michel Couvreur grew up in Belgium, then got his feet wet making wine in Burgundy in the early 50s. By the late 50s he was travelling around Europe promoting his wines and exploring what was out there. He then fell in love with Scotland, its people and its culture, and moved there in 1964. He enjoyed many days fishing, hunting and drinking wine. This is also where his love affair of whisky began, and his fascination grew and grew. He studied and gained the knowledge needed to make it, but he quickly realised the historical practices he fell in love with were being replaced by cheaper mass market ones. The old sherry butts from the heart of Jerez were being replaced by cheap ex bourbon barrels at best, at worst stainless-steel tanks. This angered him greatly and set him on a path to recover this ever-decreasing art.
In 1978 he was back in France and ready start the brand. He had once dreamed of owning a whisky distillery in Scotland but his wife was against it, preferring to move back to France. And so a compromise was met and they positioned themselves perfectly halfway between the glens of Scotland and the sweet sherry barrels of Andalusia. It was here, in the aptly named ‘Bouze-Les-Beaune,’ that Michel dynamited out a cellar and started ageing whisky. All the liquid comes from Scotland, but the exact distilleries have always been kept a close secret. The premise was to be a finishing house that specialised in sherry casks of the best quality. The filled casks were then placed in both a wet, damp, humid cellar and a dry cellar. This dual ageing has big effect on the final whisky. The damp cave mimics the warehouses in Scotland, for a slower ageing process, dropping the percentage alcohol and enhancing the silky texture. The dry cellar, meanwhile, increases viscosity along with the alcohol. The magic comes from the blending of these two components to create a whisky that’s full and rich, yet retains an incredible elegance. Michel unfortunately died in 2013 aged 85 and his business passed to the next generation. When his son-in-law came over to Amathus Soho a few years back I asked him what was happening day-to-day at the property. He told me, “I'm here talking to you, and my wife is getting groceries.” The production is still artisanal and small batch, that's for sure.
Overaged - a blend of 54 non-peated malts aged between 12 and 27 years in full-sized casks and butts. A classic sherried whisky, full of Christmas cake, chocolate, dried fruit and a suggestion of smoke. 43% ABV.
Candid - a blend of peated and non-peated malts aged in quarter sherry casks, mainly from the dry cellar. It’s younger than the overaged, but the quarter cask aging really concentrates this whisky. It shows medium levels of peat, with flavours of maple bacon, dried cherries, figs and raisins. It’s rich and full bodied and doesn’t try and hide it. 49% ABV.
Special Vatting - a blend of peated and non-peated malts aged predominantly in sherry casks. More heavily peated than the Candid and older on average as well. This gives a more mature tasting whisky, full of tobacco, complex smoky flavours and rich, spicy oak. 45% ABV.
Blossoming Auld Very Sherried - a single malt from a single heavily Pedro Ximenez-impregnated cask. These casks are hand-picked from a solera system started in the 50s at the Toro Albala estate in Montilla-Moriles, a wine appellation 150km from the sherry heartland of Jerez. The cask has seen over 50 years of wine, virtually unheard of in the whisky world. In addition to the provenance of these casks, the whisky is then majority-aged in a medium humidity environment before being moved to finish its maturation in the wettest and most humid part of Couvreur’s caves. Here, evaporation is at its most extreme and plays a huge part it making this whisky so complex and rich. The thing that defines this whisky is how it still surprises you with fresh flowers and citrus, sitting on top of the huge hug of sherry goodness. Pairs perfectly with a heavy cigar after a fabulous dinner. 45% ABV.
The Unique - a blend of both malted and unmalted grains, this definitely has an Irish feel to it. This is certainly a unique offering from Couvreur - gone are the rich sherry casks, in favour of old whisky casks. Much lighter in colour, the nose leads with fresh flowers, followed by vanilla, pastry and shortbread on the palate and a light white pepper finish. 44% ABV.
Cap a Pie - ‘Cap a Pie’ refers to being dressed ‘head to toe’ in Medieval times. This blend has it all, malt whiskies aged in sherry casks and, more interestingly, grain whiskies aged in ex-sherried whisky hogsheads. Compared with The Unique, this whisky has a much higher proportion aged in the damp caves. The nose is round and sings of the sherry barrels that have nurtured it over the years. But don’t be fooled - there is plenty of finesse and freshness here. 45% ABV.
Vin Jaune Cask - I would love to know how many wholly Vin Jaune wine cask-matured whiskies there are in the world. I would guess less than half a dozen; this could even be the first. This project started back in 2009 as a collaboration between Stefane Tissot (famed Vin Jaune wine producer from Jura) and Michel Couvreur himself. The whisky was distilled in 2009 and then added to 5 of these prized barrels, which themselves have seen decades of wine. After 10 years of ageing, Vin Jaune’s oxidative style makes a huge impression on the nose, giving large amounts of brandy-coated Christmas cake, marzipan and nuts. It’s full and rich on the palate, with cask strength bottling ensuring a long and expressive finish. On a side note, Michel actually gave a few of his whisky casks to Stefane Tissot in which to age Vin Jaune. If you spy a bottle, I would snap it up. 48% ABV (3000 bottles).
Alba Single Cask 2002 - a single cask of triple distilled Irish whisky aged in Pedro Ximenez barrel from Malaga for 19 long years. These Malaga casks are very rare compared to their Jerez neighbours down the coast and therefore this combination is very unique. This is a rich, rounded whisky, with cooked peach, honey and orange peel on the nose. It finishes with nuts, and a saline tang. 45.5% ABV, (866 bottles).
Alekse Single Cask 2003 - a non-peated malt distilled in Scotland and aged in an Amontillado butt for 17 years in the dampest part of the caves. High in viscosity and full of flavour; a whisky to be loved and savoured. Bottled at cask strength. 45.38% ABV (880 bottles).
25 Year Old Very Sherried - a single cask malt whisky distilled in Scotland and then aged for 25 long years in heavily-impregnated Pedro Ximenez casks. This is a proper old-fashioned whisky, harking back to the sherried whiskies of days gone. With a super-silky texture and mouth-coating intensity, a dram of this gives you plenty of almonds, raisins and old leather. A perfect after dinner sipper. 45% ABV (500 Bottles).