2016 Craft Extravaganza – Part II
David OG here, back for part two. Next: another wild whiskey, which is not going to be for everyone, but certainly spoke to me. In the tiny town of Hérisson, France an unusual man made an unusual choice in 1983. Hérisson is at the center of a region called Allier, famous for its forests, its grains, and its royal family. This is indeed the realm of the Duke of Bourbon. The area is part of a geological region called the Massif Central, a large raised hilly plateau that stretches across most of south central France. The illustrious Mr. Balthazar was a well respected artist and thespian, famous also for his love of life and food. Hérisson has long been a cultural center of the region, hosting summer theater and musical festivals. The good Monsieur decided one day that he wanted to create a spirit that captured the essence of his beloved region – his creation was dubbed The Hedgehog – spiky yet alluring (also the English translation for the town Hérisson). He spent decades tinkering on his tiny still, trying different mashbill and wood treatments, yeast strains and distilling temperatures. The process was 100% self regulated and he specifically avoided outside influence. He eventually settled on a formula that he believed exemplified his region in the same way that Cognac exemplifies the Charente or Armagnac is of Gascogne. A rugged spirit of great power and intensity, he dubbed it “Straight Whiskey Bourbonnais”. Of course we cannot call it that, so Single Grain Whiskey will do for the TTB.
The distiller starts with locally grown corn and malted barley, these he mills himself and blends in about 20% rye which is milled locally as his apparatus can’t get the consistency correct. These are then put through an enzymatic breakdown process of different temperature washes. The whole mash is then fermented on the grain using two proprietary yeast strains which the distiller has cultivated over the years from local sources. Fermentation is very slow, sometimes up to 14 days in small tubs. This unlautered mash is then distilled with all the solids (not unlike bourbon) on a small Holstein still built in Germany. The second distillation takes him close to 70% ABV, which is cut to 60% before filling in heavily toasted new French oak barrels. After a year of oak extraction, the spirit is transferred into ex-cognac barrels for another three to four years.
The result is rustic, uncompromising spirit that’s as wild as the man you created it. Honey, oak, slight grappa notes on the nose are balanced by a supple mouth feel and a long easy finish. It’s truly unlike any other whiskey in the world. Undoubtedly some will turn their nose up at this unrefined specialty, but I find this hearty beverage ultimately delicious, unique and unpretentious in the best way. I would recommend some serious aeration before judging this whiskey as the powerful nose softens nicely with air. This whiskey is a labor of love and production is miniscule. We received a very small allocation, but it will likely sell quickly thanks to pure curiosity.