Life is slowly returning to normal everywhere and it's a good time to go back to discovering our beloved not-so-far-away places! Today, I'm going to go back on the cow floor and head south in search of the new French "whiskicole" regions.
Today, we're going to take a trip to the region where you eat "chocolatines", where you put your bottle of whisky in a "poche" (pocket) and where it "pègue" (stinks) when it's hot, I named Occitania.
I know what I'm going to hear again, no whisky in France is not only in the East and West of France, it's also in the South! I recently introduced you to the already well-stocked New Aquitaine (see article here if you're interested) but did you know that right next door is the promising Occitanie?
And what better way to represent this region than to taste the WHISKY TOUR OCCITANIE proposed jointly by 3 of the proudest representatives of the region: the distilleries BOWS, CASTAN and TWELVE (but I'll come back to that).
But first, I wanted to tell you about a region that is boiling over (literally) and that is preparing an explosion of flavours for us in the years to come, so many up-and-coming distillers are concentrated there. Listen to this.
We will find people in the Gers region with Armagnac houses that put the knowledge of grape distillation into barley distillation, such as LE DOMAINE DE ROUNAGLE, the DOMAINE D'ESCAGNAN or the MAISON GELAS (which has been around for 150 years);
Further out to sea we will find the brewer LA CANYA (aptly named in the heat of the south) and his ESPIGA waiting in its oak cask;
On the est in the Aveyron the LANDA'S DISTILLERY which makes sleep its NewMake in barrels of cognac.
Of course, there are bottlers like the DOMAINE DE PEZE or the COMPAGNIE FRANCAISE DU WHISKY or "blenders" (future distillers) like the BLACK MOUNTAIN COMPAGNIE and its famous LOUGLIER (which I had tried some time ago -See Here-).
Before telling you about my epic journey in BRAD PEAT through the Occitan lands, I couldn't miss the straw house. I named the one of the self-taught and participative Gilles VICTORS near Toulouse! The STRAW BALE distillery, which is all decked out with organic materials, is delighting us with its KNIFEMAKER gin, its PINK PASTAGA (pastaga!) or its SINGLE CASK RYE (a Rye aged in PX barrels), and above all, it has its long-awaited FRENCH GUY SINGLE MALT in store for us very soon! (more information here).
Here I am, on board my faithful BRAD PEAT, enticed by the announcement of this partnership and this Occitan whisky. I thought what better way than to go on the road in search of the genesis: the distilleries.
Coming from the north (just because I grew up in the region doesn't mean I'm any less of a parigot), I first approached the Aubrac and the perched village of LAGUIOLE (better known for its cheese and knives than its spirit), I had the intention to visit the old presbytery housing the TWELVE distillery (whose ANDESITE -aged in LEDAIG barrels- I told you about here if you were interested) and not only to see the beautiful wrought iron bull in front of the buildings.
Unfortunately, I found the doors closed. No Christian BEC, nor Florent GASTON. All this winding road for that! Neither one nor two, my valorous BRAD PEAT was hot and ready to fight and not being a few bends away, I continued my route through certainly the most beautiful French landscapes (no, the Occitan is not proud of his region), along the bed and gorges of the Aveyron in the direction of Montauban (Motobin with accent).
Here I go for 3 good hours of curves. If you don't know, I recommend Rodez, Villefranche de Rouergue, Caylus, Bruniquel.
The tyres still smoking, I arrived more in full south of Montauban at Benoit GARCIA in his distillery BRAVE OCCITAN WILD SPIRIT (BOWS). I don't know if you remember I had the opportunity to talk to you about it during the tasting of PUR MAL BESTUIT (here).
But there too, I found myself in front of a closed door. And yet everyone knows that one should never leave Montauban (it's not me who says it, it's Monsieur Fernand)!
Decidedly, they have passed the word to each other and don't want to see the parigot or what? But the latter is stubborn and jumps back into his van (as strong as a panzer division) for another hour's drive, this time along the bed of the Tarn towards Albi. I still have a distillery, that of Sébastien CASTAN, located in the Tarn at Villeneuve Sur Vère: the DISTILLERIE CASTAN.
As BRAD PEAT is getting thirsty (of single malt), we finally arrive in the distillery yard and I park next to what is left of the old century old still (some parts of which are still in use -NDLR- but if you want to know more, don't hesitate to have a look at the VILANOVA TERROCITA tasting that I had the opportunity to propose you here).
I believe in my luck because it looks like there are a lot of people there! And hope returns completely when I see the cars parked in the courtyard: one is numbered 82 and is in the colours of the BOWS distillery, a second numbered 12 has a stylised cow's head on the bonnet and the word TWELVE, and the last one is more "endemic" and is numbered 81.
They were all there Christian BEC, Florent GASTON, Benoit GARCIA (and his cap) and Sébastien CASTAN ! And what's more, they were busy bottling, labelling and sealing the bottles of their WHISKY TOUR OCCITANIE with wax. A real team work.
So what is this great Occitan blended malt? Well, it's the fruit of a three-year gestation period, either in cognac barrels, strawberry wine barrels (which I could see coming from Montauban -NDLR-), French oak barrels or red wine barrels (which I could see coming from Gaillac -NDLR-).
The principle is "simple" (although it was necessary to think about it and especially to agree between colleagues), each one distills in its still, ages at home and then brings a barrel to the Tarn to proceed to the blending and the last finishes. And when you know the quality of the three distilleries.
The result is a production limited to 1200 bottles (I have one hey hey!) which can only be found during visits to the distilleries or on their websites.
My three distillers, having taken pity on me and on all the road travelled to get here, offer me to taste this magnificent dark gold coloured beverage, almost brown like the end of a sunset on the black mountain.
So, does it smell like Occitan country?
When approaching the glass one will already detect that it is going to be a real festival of flavour (a feis-Oc) with already a sweet smell of ripe apple.
When the nose dives deeper into the glass for the first time, it will discover a young, lively and spirited whisky that seeks to pour out its cornucopia. It starts with a smell of caramelised Aveyron pear and a slight hint of Larzac peat. The atmosphere is warm (you can almost feel the autumn wind in your glass). One can note a large peppery note that literally jumps out of the glass.
In the second passage the aromas calm down very slightly to go more towards red fruits or grapes gorged with Occitan sun. The spices continue their work by going back and forth from one nostril to the other.
On the third pass we detect a smell of strawberry and also of barley.
The peat is very discreet and reveals itself more in the palm of the hand accompanied by vinous notes.
The water calms the ardour and also brings out the peaty odours.
In the mouth, the wind that drives more than one culture crazy is there. A bunch of Chasselas de Moissac grapes, vanilla and cinnamon have just been poured over us. The spices settle on the tongue and palate and tingle the taste buds. Quickly after a hint of the harshness of a Périgord walnut, the warmth, softness and density of a honey cake fills the mouth and calms it down, already saying: I want to go back!
The finish will be quite long on aniseed, tannic and woody notes. The tongue keeps the sensation of Quercy peach skin.
Without any Occitan chauvinism, overall this whisky is quite successful. On the nose, I think that the pear and apple notes of the TWELVE and BOWS distilleries are clearly present, on top of which the warmth of the CASTAN distillery is present. The combination of the three is quite tasty.
On the palate, it is well balanced and makes you forget the ardour of its youth.
We dare to dream that the L.WT021 batch will have little brothers in the future, spending who knows even more time in the casks to round off! So many temptations to return to the Occitan country.