Tag Archives: Michel Couvreur

What to do at 30 000 feet

Get yourself one of those dinky bottles, take a sip, sit back and read my article in the October edition of British Airways’ High Life magazine.

As it appeared – p1.

As it appeared – p2.

May the draaam be with you!

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Liquid gifts

A spirit of generosity

First published in Prestige Magazine (June 2012 edition).

As it appeared – page 1.

As it appeared – page 2.

I’ve walked into the umpteenth shop only to leave again, short on ideas, long on frustration.  I’d set aside an hour of my busy day, and so far it’s taken three and counting.  It might be Father’s Day, a birthday, Christmas, or any number of other gift-giving occasions.  I just can’t seem to find that appropriate gift without a struggle.  I could resort to a voucher, or just compromise and settle on any old thing, but I can’t bring myself to do it.  It seems so callous; a gift should indicate that one cares enough to invest both money and thought (even if it’s not the case) otherwise it’s all a bit pointless.  This has been an unfortunate recurring episode in my life.  Sound familiar?  Fear not, help, such as it is, is at hand.  There is a genre of gifts that is ubiquitous and generic enough to be expedient, and yet varied and personal enough to convey a fulfilling sense of consideration.  I’m talking about fine spirits of course, the doyens of which are whisky and cognac.   I did a bit of shopping recently (sadly only of the window variety) and identified a few highlights.

Chivas Regal

Royal in both name and stature, Chivas Regal is quite likely the world’s most gifted spirit.  This iconic brand, now well over a double century in existence, has carved for itself an enviable reputation as a supreme purveyor of deluxe whisky.  Millions of people can’t be too far wrong; as a gift Chivas (pronounced shivers without the r) hits all the right notes.  It is flavoursome and interesting to the connoisseur – at the heart of the blend is Strathisla, a single malt from what is said to be the oldest continuously operating distillery in Scotland.  And it is accessible to the novice – its mild, fruity flavour is easily acquired and its pricing, at least for the entry level 12 year old (a smidgen over R200), is entirely reasonable within the premium whisky bracket.

Chivas Regal is available on our shelves as either a 12, 18 and 25 year old.  The former is being offered in a package with two complimentary whisky tumblers during special gifting occasions, and the latter two are available year-round in attractive, top-end presentation boxes.

Remy Martin Louis XIII

If cognacs were stones, this one would be a diamond.  There are some that are more expensive, others that are more popular, and others still that are decked with a brighter glitter, but nothing else possesses the same cachet, shines with the same aura, or enjoys the same acclaim as Remy Martin Louis XIII.  Verbalised by the cognoscenti as “Louis Treize” (French for 13), this brand is an enduring classic.  I’ve seen advertisers gratuitously use the term “a mark of distinction” to peddle their wares.  Remy doesn’t need do this for Louis XIII (and Remy certainly doesn’t peddle).  If ever there was a product that was a mark of distinction then this is it…but it’s an unspoken fact, simply understood where that understanding is required.

Cognac is known for its excessive, some would say over-the-top, packaging.  The Louis Treize was one of the products that blazed this trail.  It has since 1937 been bottled in a Baccarat crystal decanter that itself probably costs more than most other cognacs.  Decadent as this may seem, given that some components in the blend are over a hundred years old, it’s somehow elegantly appropriate.

Pricing is steep – expect to pay in excess of R17 000.  I would perhaps suggest that this a gift to be reserved for those held in the very highest esteem…or for those needing to be convincingly impressed.  The latter might explain why the Remy Treize, along with cognac as a whole, has become so popular in the East, where there is an entrenched gift-giving (and favour currying) culture in the working environment.

Richelieu XO Cognac

Isn’t Richelieu a brandy?  Well, as of last year, the brandy in the age-old French tradition is now offering us an age-old French tradition – cognac.    I’ve had the pleasure of tasting Richelieu XO, and I can report that it is magnificent, demonstrating complex flavours of fruit and spices and a full-bodied, silky mouth-feel.  The liquid is supplied by Richelieu’s stablemate Bisquit, but unlike their VSOP, which I find too cloying, this product manages to be both bold and restrained, each in the right place.

At circa R1600 it’s worth highlighting that it represents good value for an XO cognac.  It might just be the perfect gift for a new father – to accompany the obligatory cigars.

Michel Couvreur 1983

Here’s something one doesn’t see everyday.  Michel Couvreur has launched one of world’s only truly unique whiskies:  a 1983 vintage single cask…which is individually bottled on request.  The bottle comes inscribed with the name of the purchaser, and with the date and time of bottling.  It’s also accompanied by a certificate verifying its authenticity.  The individual bottling process means that each and every bottle will spend a different period of time in wood, and, as a result, will in theory be a different and unique whisky.

Couvreur is a whisky artisan of long standing, based in Burgundy in France, and known in particular for his highly cultivated maturation process, in which he ages Scottish new-make spirit in individually selected Solera sherry casks.  He and his small team are the remnants of an almost-forgotten golden era of whisky craftsmanship.

The Couvreur range of whiskies was launched in South Africa last year and is available in strictly limited quantities.  The 1983 retails for R4999.

Glenmorangie

Glenmorangie is one of the “maisons” in the LVMH group – the world’s largest single owner of luxury brands, and home to epic labels such Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Bulgari.  One would thus expect the guys at Glenmorangie to exhibit a swaggering command when it comes to gifting.  And indeed they don’t disappoint – every year bringing out gift offers that set a benchmark for the industry.  Their latest gift-pack whilst not their best is compelling nonetheless.  It’s a beautifully designed carton containing a bottle of Glenmorangie Original, and a complimentary dinky bottle of Nectar D’Or, an expression from the brand’s pioneering extra matured range (this one specifically was finished in Sauternes casks).

Pricing is at around the R400 mark.

Father’s Day 2012

The below went out to the WHISKYdotcoza database today.  Please feel free to partake if it’s of interest.

Father’s Day is nearly upon us.  This year it takes place on June 17.  It’s an annual opportunity to specially celebrate one of the most important people in our lives.  My own father kindled my love of whisky, and I can’t think of a better gift for whisky-loving dads than a fine bottle of the golden nectar.

This year, for a very limited time (the offer expires at 08h00 on the morning of Wednesday 13 June), WHISKYdotcoza is offering a complimentary set of six specialist glasses (see below) with every bottle of Michel Couvreur whisky.

Epic glasses!

These are the glasses that I use to drink my whisky – they’re epic glasses for epic whisky.  Note though that stocks are limited, and will be allocated on a first come, first served basis.  However, if you miss out on the glasses, we’ll provide you with a complimentary gift bag and card – there’ll be a little extra for all fathers on this special occasion.

Michel Couvreur is a French whisky craftsman of long-standing.  Read about him and his whiskies here.  We offer his Overaged Malt, and his Special Vatting on our site, but we’ve also secured highly limited quantities (because that’s all that was available) of his super-premium products, about which you can contact us directly (on info@whisky.co.za) .  The unique (and I mean unique) 1983 might be a great option for the more patient dads, who’re willing to wait whilst we arrange an individual, customised bottling.

We wish you and your dads a wonderful Father’s Day.  May the dram be with you!

The world’s first truly unique whisky…?

In my previous post I indicated that my next post (i.e. this post) would explore the subject of chillfiltration.  I’ve subsequently decided to hijack the topic for my whisky column in the May edition of Prestige Magazine.  It’ll be re-published here in a few months’ time.  Apologies.

You may remember from this post that a friend and I import an artisanal, boutique whisky into the country.  Be warned then that the information that follows is not critical or independent – in fact it’s a rehashed press release for the latest offering from French whisky guru Michel Couvreur.  You should find it interesting nonetheless.  The guys from GlenDronach did something loosely similar at last year’s Whisky Festival, but I think I’m right in saying that this is highly unusual.  Let me know if you’ve heard of any other instances.

What is a unique whisky?

A single malt is unique.  This style of whisky can only be produced at one distillery.  And yet year-on-year each bottling is pretty much the same.  A vintage whisky is unique.  It can only be made from liquid distilled and put in wood at the same time.  However there is no effective limit to how much of it can be churned out.  A single cask is unique.  All of this whisky must come out of a single cask.  Typically though a cask can produce up to 800 odd bottles of the same whisky.

Clearly then “unique” – in conjunction with whisky – is a word to be used with some circumspection.

Michel Couvreur has launched one of world’s only truly unique whiskies:  the 1983 vintage single cask…which is individually bottled on request.  Every bottle of the 1983 will be inscribed with the name of the purchaser and with the date and time of bottling.  This individual bottling process means that each and every bottle will spend a different period of time in wood, and consequently therefore will be a different and unique whisky!

Unique, uniquer, uniquest.

This 29 year-old malt is the ideal gift for the discriminating person who has it all, especially with Father’s Day approaching. The unique and personalized 1983 would without a doubt amplify any celebration, and enhance even the most eminent collection.

Michel Couvreur’s range of rare whiskies was officially launched in South Africa last year to critical acclaim.  Couvreur is a whisky artisan of long-standing, based in Burgundy in France, and he enjoys a stellar reputation for his highly cultivated maturation process, in which he employs individually selected Solera sherry casks.  He and his small team are the remnants of an almost-forgotten golden age, when craftsmanship trumped mass production.  He has been honoured in the press with the moniker “Last of the Mohicans”.

Only 20 bottles of the exclusive 1983 have been allotted to South Africa, and they are available at a unit cost of R4999.  Should you be interested in securing a bottle please contact us at info@whisky.co.za

And if you have this type of money to spend on whisky…I can only salute you.  It’s inspirational.  May the dram be with you!

A journey to the heart of whisky

A good while back I was having dinner with a friend at his home when he pulled out an unusual-looking bottle of whisky.  It had a distinctive hand-applied wax seal, and it didn’t have the type of slick label that big brands spend thousands developing.   The thing radiated an authentic old world charm. “You’ve got to try this whisky”, he urged, “it’s made by Michel Couvreur”.  “Who?” I replied.

Michel Couvreur, that's who!

Fast forward a couple of years and I’m at another dinner – just outside the city of Beaune in Burgundy – with none other than Monsieur Couvreur himself.  He’d invited me to an amazing restaurant.  Aperitifs and amuse-bouches on a pagodaed terrace to the dulce sounds of a string quartet.  Three courses of lobster, each paired with an exquisite wine.  A cheese trolley of astounding proportions and variety.  Grand Marnier soufflé with sorbet.  Coffees (of the civet variety no doubt).  An audience with the head chef.   If he’d set out to impress he’d succeeded in spades.  Next time someone mentioned Michel Couvreur I wouldn’t be hooting like an owl.

That epic dinner was the culmination of events put in motion at the previous dinner.  We had ruminated deep into the night about the sorry selection of whiskies in South Africa.  You’d struggle to find a regular independent bottling, but something like this – an artisanal whisky, of the style that was originally made by the doyens of Scotch whisky before their names became mass brands, something truly special and out of the ordinary – was completely beyond grasp.  So, motivated by nothing other than the love of this fine whisky and a thirst (pun intended) for the adventure, we decide to seek out Michel Couvreur and convince him to ship us his goods.

Checking out Michel Couvreur's Special Vatting

Eventually I ended up in the small village of Bouze-les-Beaune, iconically midway between Scotland, from whence Monsieur Couvreur has “clerach” (a fancy name for new-make) distilled to his personal specifications, and Andalusia, where he sources many of his casks.  The whisky philosophy of this deeply philosophical man is simple – it is based on the conviction that 90% of a whisky’s character and quality can be attributed to the wood in which it has been aged.  This has raised some ire amongst certain whisky commentators.  The influential Malt Maniac Serge Valentin had this to say in 2008: “Indeed, twelve years ago or so, I attended a Michel Couvreur session where they claimed that the distillery didn’t matter, that only the casks did, thus implying that displaying the distillery’s name on a Scotch single malt whisky was useless.  No need to say that that did really put me off, and that anything branded ‘Michel Couvreur’ used to make me frown – at best – since that very session”.  It may be an extreme position – and I’m not sure that Monsieur Couvreur uses the word, or even implication, “useless” – but I don’t know of anyone who argues against wood as the dominant influence on the flavour of a whisky.  I personally wouldn’t put a number to it, the specifics would vary I’m sure from whisky to whisky, but I’ve seen it done:  the guys at Glenrothes have it at 60%.  Is 90% categorically unreasonable?  I’m not so sure.  My host during the tasting at the Couvreur cellar was Jean-Arnaud Frantzen, a young guy with an advanced science degree (I forget the discipline) who decided to pack it all in to study whisky at the feet of this master.  He presented me with the results of an experiment – identical new-make aged for 7 years (if I remember correctly) in two separate casks, one bourbon, one sherry.  I’m a taster-in-training, and I will be for many years to come.  I don’t claim any extraordinary talent.  Nevertheless it was obvious that the two were significantly different.  60% different?  90%?  Why quibble?  Michel Couvreur has focused his efforts on indisputably the most important aspect of whisky-making, and in doing so he has forged a reputation as a maturation specialist of incomparable skill.  In fact, despite his conceptual misgivings, Serge went on to hand out impressive scores of 88-90 points to the flagship Couvreur malts.

Today most industrial whisky producers favour Bourbon barrels because they are dramatically less expensive than sherry casks, especially the heavily impregnated Solera casks from which traditional whisky flavours evolved.  Monsieur Couvreur has resisted this impulse.  Over the course of decades he has unwaveringly dedicated himself to seeking out the highest quality casks, personally visiting small bodegas in the great sherry producing regions of Spain, particularly Andalusia, to individually select the best of the best.  These are then transported to his estate, filled with whisky (or whisky-to-be), and placed in his subterranean cellar.  This cellar, a maze-like structure with a couple of casks around every corner, mostly sherry but some bourbon and a smattering of the exotic (notably the Jura Vin Jaune), offers the ideal conditions for ageing whisky.  Down there, guided through passages hewn from the rock, I felt transported back in time to a golden age of whisky, captivated by the aura of the man, by his passion for his craft, and by the almost holy setting.

MC in the cellar

The maturation aside, it is a measure of Michel Couvreur’s commitment to quality, his attention to detail, and his uncompromising ethic, that he imports spring water from Scotland for reduction.  10% the rest might be but he takes it all seriously.  It is no surprise then that his small-batch whiskies, unheralded and unadvertised, have found their way from his legendary cellar to the four corners, promoted by nothing more than word of mouth and a recognition of their excellence, in the process making him a cult figure amongst connoisseurs and aficionados.  His premises, whilst impressive, are inconspicuous, un-signposted, just another elegant building in the elegant French countryside, and yet, whilst I was visiting, a group of whisky fans had managed to track him down and were knocking on his door requesting a visit.  He shrugged and asked to be excused – apparently this was a standard occurrence.

I was lucky enough to be offered a taste of his Ever Young Pristine 35yo during my visit – as was my wife, not the most avid whisky drinker, so from whom I then inherited a second dram.  I’m not one to ascribe the descriptors “best” or “favourite” to a whisky but if I were then this would be a strong contender.  It was utterly magnificent.  Sadly, I’ll be one of the last few people to have the honour of tasting this whisky.  Like many Couvreur single malts, this is a vintage single cask, of which few bottles remain.

The Big Daddy

Whether you agree with his ideas or not, in this era when the industry is defined by rampant corporate proliferation, when it is the trade and not the craft that calls the tune, Michel Couvreur and his small team of successors truly stand apart.  Hailed as “the last of the Mohicans”, a moniker bestowed on him by the Danish press, he is a hidden treasure and the heir to an endangered heritage.    He adds colour, heart and charm – and damn good drinking – to the whisky landscape.