We're in Burgundy, home to arguably some of the finest wines made in the world. Maybe you've heard of it. However, we don't buy the wine for K&L, so we're here for the single malt. Oh yeah – Scotch takes a road trip. Michel Couvreur is a company that has been aging single malt purchased from Scotland and shipped over to France to be aged in their limestone cellars that are unlike anything we have ever seen. An exquisite blend of two cultures that creates some mighty fine whisky.
Mr. Couvreur passed away last year, but his legacy and practices live on with the new cellar master and blender Jean-Arnaud Frantzen. He has taken over the reigns without missing a step. Walking through their doors is like taking a step back in time a few decades, to a time when quality new make single malt was available for independent people to age as they saw fit. Thanks to long-term filling contracts from four different distilleries, they're able to age the spirit in their own sherry barrels, then taking those unique single malts and blending the barrels together to create something larger than the whole. "Each blend is like a recipe, you need to add just the right ingredients to create balance," Jean-Arnaud told us.
Since up to 70% of the flavor of a whisky comes from the wood, sourcing the best barrels possible to age whisky in is essential. Being fresh off the plane from Scotland and hearing about how finding quality wood was getting near impossible, this was on the forefront of our minds. The wood shortage is so bad these days, folks are using 3 year old barrels filled with inexpensive sweet sherry just to have something to put their Scotch in. There is so much of a demand for wood that producers are (I will not say scraping the bottom of the barrel) really desperate to find enough to meet their needs.
Jean-Arnaud is the rockstar of getting barrels. It really doesn't get better than the cooperage in their cellar.
"What sort of cooperage do you age your barrels in?"
"I have some good friends in Jerez who send me some good barrels."
That answered what was the understatement of the trip. His "friends" are the folks at Equipo Navasos, which for people who don't drink Sherry, are the absolute top of the top for the region. His latest barrel to arrive was a 40 freakin year old PX cask. 40, not barely turned three and emptied just as a vessel for the over burdened Scotch market. This is the big leagues of whisky aging.
Now to what makes Michel Courveur so unique: the cellars. Think of Gollum's cave tucked away in a quaint little town in the Côte de Beaune. They have two separate cellars for the aging process; one dry cellar and one very murky, drippy and damp cellar that looks like it is should have the Count of Monte Cristo's gold hidden inside. Far and away the most unique cellar I have ever seen for storing whiskey.
Dual climate control is not just for your fancy BWM any longer. The difference in humidity gives you some options when aging whisky. The dry area creates a whisky that is spicy and intense and that retains its alcohol level (which can be at high as 60%, hang on to your hats). The humid side of life has the opposite effect on the whisky, it lowers the alcohol percentage and allows the whisky to mellow out and soften its harsh corners. They have become masters of this delicate dance and have created whiskies that are both incredibly flavorful, intense, and soft all at the same time.
There is simply nothing else like this we have ever come across. A unique blend of terroir's spanning the English Channel, that capture two words in perfect harmony. The expertise of the Scotch distilling prowess, and the ingenious blending and aging skills that have been fostered by the French for hundreds of years. We walked out of Michel Couvreur's cellars with a brand new appreciation for how masters at their craft can create something completely unique.