Unveiling The Voile
The wonderful Michel Couvreur whiskies have been a staple in our portfolio ever since we visited the tiny little village of Bouzy-les-Beaunes in 2014. There we met with Mr Couvreur’s protege Jean-Arnaud Frantzen, or JA, who agreed to create a special Cuvée just for K&L. That special little whisky has been one of the most successful in our history and converted countless customers into Couvreur lovers. Our boy in Burgundy has something that almost no one else can compete with. They’re recreating a style of whisky that is truly extinct in Scotland, despite not being able to call it Scotch, it might the most authentic old school malt on the planet.
The style, which JA affectionately refers to as “Victorian,” uses extremely fresh sherry, trucked directly from producers in Jerez and super humid underground cellars. This closely resembles how the malts of Scotland might have been matured in the great old Scottish estates of the 1800s. Sherry, moved in barrel to the cellars of Scotland’s famous highland sporting estates, were consumed with great vigor. That special wine was drawn from the barrel to be consumed as needed, but when the barrel was empty, it was replenished with malt whisky from the local distillery, to age and be consumed slowly in the estate’s underground cellars.
This process doesn’t exist any longer for many reasons. So even when a good fresh sherry butt makes its way up to Scotland, its either broken down and reconstructed or filled with traveling sherry and wrapped in plastic. This by no means makes it inferior to what Couvreur is doing, but it certainly doesn’t have the same effect as filling a freshly dumped Oloroso or PX puncheon. At Couvreur, they specialize in sourcing the freshest casks, bring in malt spirit from some of Scotland’s best distilleries and age their whisky in the hollowed-out caves behind Couvreur’s house. As you go deeper into the cellar the humid rises. By the back of the cave you’ve got water dripping profusely off the walls. Several casks must be protected from direct contact with tarps and stalactites form throughout as the calcium rich water flows freely across the cave.
Michel made a name for himself in the wine business before falling deeply enamored with Single Malt and his connections to the great winemakers of France have not dwindled over the years. The newest expression from the little house in Bouzy is the opposite of many of their classic expression, which seek to recreate a style of Scotch that has been lost to the ages. Now we’re firmly into the realm of innovation. 10 years ago, the Couvreur traded some old Whisky butts for five barrels that had previously been used to make Vin Jaune.
If you’re not aware of this special wine from the Jura region of France, it’s somewhere in between Grand Cru Burgundy and Fino Sherry. Using the ancient Savagnin Blanc -a relative of the Traminer grape for the Tyrol, Vin Jaune is left in old barrels which are not filled to the top. As in Jerez, a thin yeasty veil (flor or voile in Spanish & French) grows, feeding off the left-over sugars and acids in the wine, and protects the wine from oxygen. These wines can last up to 8+ years in barrel before being bottled and the dry unfortified wine that is considered one of the most age worth whites available. Certain cellars have stocks going back more than a century and apparently these ancient wines still drink well.
Because of the length of time need to produce and some superstition around how the veil forms, Vin Jaune producers do not let go of those barrels often, so it’s somewhat of a coup that Couvreur was able to acquire some. And his aren’t from just any producer, but from Stephan Tissot, one of the region’s most venerable. So, 10 long years ago these five casks were filled with unpeated highland malt spirit and left in the most humid part of the cellars. On February 13th, 2019 the five casks were dumped and bottled without any reduction or filtration of any kind. The resulting whisky is one of the unusual and delicious we’ve ever had from Couvreur. On the nose, very close to fino and a bit austere, but with water it becomes this incredible, ethereal mineral driven malts that reminds me of the best from Clynelish or Glen Garioch. On the palate there’s tons of sweet cereal grains, golden honey, marmalade, roasted walnuts, lemongrass, ginger and barley syrup. A totally oddity but one that’s undeniably delicious. Only 60 bottles imported to the US and we bought everyone.