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Friday
Jan242014

The Return of Michel Couvreur

It's funny that in this age of internet access and extreme whisky fandom there are still a few single malt outliers that fly under the general radar.  The malt whiskies from Michel Couvreur might be one of the best examples of high-quality hooch that few people have ever heard of. We've carried his products on and off for years, as the portfolio bounced around between a handful of local distributors, and availability would come and go. Then, last year, we heard the tragic news that Michel had passed away and the future of his estate was unknown. We weren't sure if there would be more Couvreur products coming or if his passing marked the end of an era. However, a few weeks ago, we learned that his son-in-law (who is 69 years old) had taken up the mantle and soldiered on in the name of the label. We immediately placed an order when we heard the whiskies were once again available in California.

Who was Michel Couvreur, you ask? Let me tell you. Michel Couvreur was a Belgian wine dealer who moved to Beaune (in the heart of France's Burgundy region) in the 1950s. Always an avid outdoorsman, he took frequent trips to Scotland where he enjoyed the quality hunting and fishing--and afterward, a fine dram of whisky. In the 1960s, he actually moved to Scotland to become more involved with the Scotch whisky industry, as he had developed a taste for sherry-aged single malt. He worked out a few contracts from suppliers and began purchasing whisky to mature in his own sherry butts that he secured from Jerez. In the 70s, Michel decided to move back to Beaune, in order to focus more on quality cooperage (Beaune was closer to Spain and easier to work out of) and that's when he decided to mature his own casks, in his own cellar, built deeply into the side of a nearby hill. Michel would contract whisky from Scotland, barrels from Spain, and make his own expressions of single malt whisky from the heart of French wine country.

Michel Couvreur tasting from barrels in his Beaune cellarFor four decades now, there have been whiskies aging in the hillside of Bouze-les-Beaune. I'm absolutely dying to get into that warehouse, personally, and see what's left. Couvreur was a big fan of PX sherry butts, as well as ex-Palomino casks, which he used to make a whisky called the "Pale Single." While I'm sure there are still some incredible barrels lying around in that 500 foot tunnel, Michel's real skill was evident in his blending. If you're a fan of sherry-aged whisky, you might want to check out the 12 Year Overaged Malt Whisky, vatted from 54 whiskies aged more than 12 years (up to 27 years, actually). It's a rich, textural, sherry-laden delight with depth and complexity--reminiscent of the best Glenfarclas and Glendronach expressions.

Michel's whiskies were never popular with the SWA, however, who were litigous in making sure Michel did not call his whisky "Scottish" single malt. The whiskies were definitely made in Scotland, but they weren't aged there, which disqualified Michel from using the term according to the association. Today the label says "Distilled in Scotland, vatted from various over 12 year old whiskies, traditionally ennobled with sherry oak casks and bottled in our French Burgundian caves."

We're heartbroken that Michel has passed on, but we're happy his whiskies will continue to honor his memory. For how much longer, we're not sure, but let's enjoy them while they're here.

-David Driscoll