France’s passion and thirst for whisky is well known and especially for Scotch. It’s unusual that until recently that as a country France has not distilled their own whisky. Finally, we’re seeing new French whiskies arriving at market, but the label of Michel Couvreur is an entirely different proposition.
Think of Michel’s whiskies as a Scottish boutique where they are sculpted and finished in order to maximise their characteristics. Based in the heartland of the French wine industry – Burgundy – Michel hails from Belgium and it was the legendary bottles of plonk that attracted him to the region initially in the 1950’s. His initial aim was to grow and produce his own wine thereby reaping the benefits of selling this locally and internationally. Such a concept involved travelling to the UK and in particular to the wonderful scenery of Scotland that offered outdoor activities and whisky.
Settling in England initially, it was only a matter of a few years before Michel relocated to Scotland in 1964 and immersed himself in the Scotch whisky industry. Through whisky he developed a particular fondness for the use of sherry casks although this was a period of transition within the industry, which was eager to reduce costs associated with acquiring these fine types of casks. Nowadays we’re seeing newer sherry casks being unleashed across the whisky industry. Quite often they result in an aggressive and limited sherry dynamic with the distillery character i.e. the spirit being swamped.
The end result is often a forceful sherry influence that lacks the subtle caress and layers of flavour that a great sherry cask can offer working in harmony with the spirit – rarely seen now and mainly available via old whisky bottles. Sherry casks until the early 1970’s were shipped to the UK containing sherry and became a by-product that the whisky industry took advantage of. Many were created from ancient trunks that held the flavours in tandem with its previous contents. Many of today’s sherry casks are micromanaged from controlled forests meaning that the wood is more youthful and limited. Quite often these casks have not held sherry for prolonged periods or even for a modest time – some only being flushed or seasoned with the Spanish spirit or inferior substitutes. It all adds up to a seismic shift and one that is evident in the glass for whisky drinkers.
A great sherry cask is one about balance. It should be gentle and assisted by patience. The old casks work in tandem with the environment around them and the tradition bodega warehouses. Spanish producers by law are no longer allowed to export sherry abroad whilst residing within the casks since the early 1990’s. Michel sensing what was to come returned to Burgundy in the 1970’s or more specifically Bouze-les-Beaune. Here he set about acquiring his favourite types of casks from Spain that mostly consist of Palomino that is a drier sherry style and Pedro Ximenez that is a sweeter exponent. The other important element of the equation is where such casks will reside and Michel dug his own 500-foot cellar to establish a perfect environment to mature whisky.
As the whisky itself is not fully matured in Scotland it cannot be called Scotch whisky by law, but the spirit itself heralds from Scotland. The distilleries are not listed and instead Michel prefers to bottle at the perfect moment – determined by the spirit itself. Whilst the origins are not stated each release offers as much details as humanly and legally possible. The Special Vatting Peaty Malt Whisky features 3 different whiskies ranging in ages from 12-20 years before being vatted into a sherry cask in his Burgundy cellar. Others available are often single casks with a preference for sherry and presented in a visual French wine style with a wax sealed cork and a classic font.
It all adds up to an original and exciting proposition.