Often I find myself wondering what to write about next.
The difficulty isn’t in choosing a whisky to review, but more about trying to figure out what topic will actually grab the interests of the reader. With limited conversation with the audience, the writer is often in the position of both guide and clairvoyant, trying to ascertain the specific interests of the crowd beyond the general subject to produce interesting thinkpieces and reviews that actually contribute to the conversation.
This process can sometimes hinder writing; second-guessing choices, starting an article or review only to find it lacklustre, realising something has been covered extensively already can delay or extend the writing process. I guess this extended intro is just to highlight that I find choosing a subject tricky. The solution often comes in the form of personal passion; I settle on whiskies that mean something to me and write about them in the hope that my feelings and experiences may also connect with some of the readers out there.
Today’s bottles fit into this category snugly. Sometime around 2016, I found myself in Beirut to attend the first edition of a genre film festival, which I was incredibly proud and lucky to do. Film festivals, for those who work behind the scenes, often involve long periods of waiting punctuated by intense periods of activity. During the screenings, organisers tend to respond to emails, or deal with one of the 1,000 problems that arise during the course of the day. If the guests or jury are not attending a screening, they’ll be in the lobby or the hub, too – milling, meeting people, etc.
It was in one of those moments that an advertisement hanging behind the concession stand in the cinema caught my eye. It was an understated poster that promoted a whisky shop. My eyes lit up. A whisky shop in Beirut! Who knew what interesting bottles could be found there?
So, the next night I found myself going to the shop with a friend or two in tow. It was a beautiful, modern glass cave filled with almost every imaginable bottle, as well as a small tasting bar at the back with a number of tables. The owner (whose name eludes me) was a knowledgeable and friendly man, and soon we were discussing whiskies in depth. Slowly, he invited me over to the bar at the back and proceeded to give me samples to try based on the whiskies we discussed.
Sadly, time was limited and just as we were preparing to make our excuses and leave, he said “I have something I think you’ll really enjoy.” He brought out an unusually shaped bottle, poured me and my friend a small dram, and said “I consider this the most elegant whisky I know and I have a feeling you will enjoy it.”
He was not wrong.
The whisky in question was from Michel Couvreur – a whisky brand (and man) as interesting as the bottles they produce. Still largely unknown, finding Couvrer’s whiskies is a challenge in itself, but – for the record – I’ve never yet been disappointed with a bottle.
Michel Couvreur is named after its founder, who wanted to bring Scotch whisky to France and age it in cellars in Burgundy, which makes Couvreur more of a finishing house. Starting in 1978, Michel Couvreur wanted to focus on what he believed truly made the whisky: the oak and the aging. He spent his entire life refining the maturation process. Currently, his son-in-law and his cellar master continue his work, expanding the types of casks, tweaking the process and creating very unique whisky. There’s very often a sherry influence in all their whiskies (as the man was very fond of these) but they have experimented with other unusual cask types, too including Fino.
I’m not sure I agree with his assertion that cask is 90% of the source of flavour, with whisky production and distillation only 10%. In recent years, following distillers who play with terroir, I’ve been amazed to see some of the results achieved in very short amounts of time. However, I do believe Michel Couvreur was on to something with his careful use of oak. The key word in most of his whiskies is balance, the very same “elegance” my friend in Lebanon was referring to, something that can often be lacking in a lot of whiskies.
Michel Couverur Overaged Malt Whisky – Review
52% ABV£75 from The Whisky Exchange..
Color: Deep copper, cinnamon.
On the nose: Farmyard funk mingles with sweet vanilla, baking spices and dates.
In the mouth: An initial hit of sweetness is quickly tampered by the oak; the tannins are strong and dry out the mouth pretty intensely. The flavors, however, keep going: black cherries appear and – as the whole thing ends – pipe tobacco and Christmas. A long and luxurious finish lingers like a pleasant memory.
I’m not 100% sure of the availability of this next bottle (as I won it in an online auction) but a little research showed me that it was especially bottled for “John Aylesbury,” a whisky shop and club in Germany.
Michel Couvreur Malt Whisky John Aylesbury 12 Years – Review
43% ABV. €75 from John Aylesbury.
Color: Brown oak
On the nose: Sweetness initially but this time the oak is noticeably lighter – it’s a sweet trip at the seaside, honey, maybe a touch of
In the mouth: Light and fruity, a touch of alcohol, some lingering notes of oak, light syrup, brown candy and some appealing herbal notes.
One other interesting point to note is that all Michel Couvreur bottles are corked like wine bottles so, once you open it, you’ll have to find ways to improvise to keep the liquid inside oxygen-proof. It’s a tricky challenge but kind of adds to the charm, in my humble opinion.
My love with Couvreur continues unabated; I do often wish I could find more examples of their whiskies (only recently tried the “Vin Jaune” in a restaurant in Portugal) but the hunt is part of the fun of the whole affair.
If – like me – you enjoy elegant, balanced, but strong profiled whiskies with a sherry influence, I’d definitely recommend checking a bottle of Michel Couvreur.
Lead image from Evrim. Overaged image from The Whisky Exchange. 12 Year image courtesy of John Aylesbury.