Wines to Whisky – Michel Couvreur’s Revolution

A selection of wax-sealed, rustic-looking bottles with charmingly handwritten labels recount the story and an intriguing history through distinctly eclectic flavors. Once opened, the secrets of the amber liquid within are revealed. With a single sip of any of these whiskies, one can experience anything from the young, smooth, and subtle notes of the Scottish highlands to bolder, older styles of more refined spirits. The Couvreur line is different – sometimes unusual, yet always consummate – it appeals to anyone who enjoys well-made sophisticated spirits.

Michel Couvreur, who was born in Belgium and is sometimes referred to as “the last of the Mohicans,” moved to Beaune in Burgundy in 1951 where he sold and made his wines as an independent winemaker.  He moved his business to Scotland In 1964 where he sold fine Burgundian wines to an exclusive wealthy clientele.  It was here that he was first introduced to whisky by the owner of a local distillery.  He was enamored by the experience and decided to learn the fine art of making whisky.   When he returned to Burgundy, he transformed his passion into the creation of refined whiskies like those that were made during the Victorian era.  He had a particular adoration of sherried whisky and he traveled to Spain to obtain old Jerez-made sherry butts to mature his whiskies in.  Couvreur would take select Scottish whiskies aged in Spanish barrels, and transfer these into giant bottles (demijohns) that were kept in total darkness in his 150 meters of cellars which are dug fifteen meters deep into the limestone under the hillsides of Beaune. Couvreur makes some of the finest renditions of prized whiskies right in the center of French wine country.

The period after distillation – the lengthy maturation time spent in sherry casks – gives the whisky its proverbial soul. At this point, the fragrances imparted by the remnants of the aged and fortified wine in the wood are entwined with the fragrances of the barley in the malt. The racking (changing of casks) provides the whisky with its unique smoothness, flavor, and flair. The selection of casks, therefore, is of the utmost importance as is the choice of whiskies.

Chéz Sherry

As early as the 16th century, barrels that were used to transport sherry from Spain were subsequently used to store whisky. Today, the tradition continues with myriad well-known whiskies being aged in custom sherry casks that are several years old. Couvreur’s whiskey, in comparison, is aged in sherry casks that might be a few decades old though some of them are closer to the 100-year mark!

The toasting of the casks provides the liquor with various aromatic notes like caramel and vanilla, while the charring of casks produces charcoal to mellow the sharpness of the distilled liquor. The sherry formerly held in these containers can impart nutty and fruity flavors, as well as lightness, crispness, and sweetness. The additive, subtractive, interactive, and oxidizing effects of barrel aging on the whisky make the Couvreur cellars more of a finishing house than a distillery; and more a refinery than a whisky mill. It is a gallery that weaves together the crafting of wine (where terroir is king) and whisky (where craftsmanship rules) evident in the philosophies and practices of winemaker-turned-whisky revolutionary Michel Couvreur.

Sadly Michel passed away in 2013, however, his legacy is continued by his son-in-law Cyril Deschamps and Jean-Arnaud Franzten, the cellarmaster, who was an apprentice for more than ten years.  They work alongside Michel’s wife Marthe and daughter Alexandra who ensure the preservation of Couvreur’s “dance of maturation,” a stringent cycle that melds the traditional and progressive methods pioneered by his mentor to develop intense, flavorful, and sophisticated whiskies. Aged in the most superior sherry casks, these evoke the best expressions of flavor and aroma from hand-picked whiskies and blends.

Although far from being a household name due to the exclusivity and limited nature of his products, the arrival of Couvreur’s offerings at any venue or gathering is a cause for celebration. Only limited quantities are made and demand is so high that they are almost immediately sold out through allocations which can make these highly desired whiskies elusive to many collectors and appreciators of fine liquor.

Only 50,000 bottles are sold solely by retailers per year in more than 20 countries (now including the Philippines) without the contrivances of marketing pomp and promotional pageantry; after all, the best brand ambassador is what’s inside every Couvreur bottle. Each corked, wax-sealed, and hand-labeled bottle echoes the house motto Virtute et Opera (Virtue and Industry), reflecting the founder’s philosophies and the painstaking attention to detail by which each whisky reaches its prime and comes to its legendary fruition.

The Michel Couvreur Whisky Collection

Once near-impossible to source, the occasionally unusual, always ambrosial expressions of Michel’s inimitable craftsmanship are now within your reach. Witness the revolutionary vision of the master of maturation through these select whiskies – now available at Origine.

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The Spirit of Whisky