The Huard family have been living in and around the small village of Caligny for five generations. The village is situated in an area known as the Suisse Normand (Switzerland of Normandy.) Here the hills are higher and valleys are deeper than many other parts of the greater region. Outside of the village of Caligny next to a large granite building you will find the orchards and cave of Jean-François Guillouet, grandson of the eponymous Michel Huard. The family owns 37 acres of orchards with livestock that roam, aerate and fertilize the soils. This allows for Jean-François to forgo the use of outside treatments in his orchards. The average age of the apple trees are 30 years old, and most are about 40 feet tall. The family has 15 different types of apple trees (most of them early to mid-season ripening) with a majority of the trees being the President variety. Come harvest, the apples are pressed and fermented in underground tanks built into a nearby hillside. Twice a year, a traveling distiller comes to the property and transforms the apple cider into Calvados in a column still.
From the above reminder of Huard we wanted to turn to the bottle that we have today. Michel Huard’s U.S. importer is Charles Neal. The story of this collaboration began just shy of a decade ago when Charles visited the cellars of Michel Couvreur in Burgundy. Michel Couvreur was a Belgian who was known and beloved for his work aging Scottish Single Malt in the very humid to wet underground cellars of Bouze-lès-Beaune in Burgundy. From that visit a friendship started between Charles and Couvreur’s apprentice and Maître de Chai Jean-Arnaud Frantzen.
Charles was in Burgundy four years ago and stopped off for a visit at Couvreur. On that initial visit Charles had noticed some Calvados casks in the cellar that were destined for Scandinavia. Charles had been mulling a thought experiment on aging spirits in different environments for a number of years and broached the subject with Jean-Arnaud. The conversation turned on what happens to the alcohol in a wet cellar versus dry cellar, and so on. It was the position of Charles that if you wanted to naturally drop the alcohol in a cask without the addition of water, this would be best achieved in a humid to very wet cellar, similar to the conditions present in Michel Couvreur’s own cellar (seen below at right.) When asked by Charles if he would be interested in aging (for a fee) some of Charles’ producer’s spirits in Burgundy it turned out that Jean-Arnaud was open to the idea. While running through his stable of Calvados producers– Lemorton, Manoir de Montreuil, Camut, Michel Huard– Jean-Arnaud remarked that he loved Huard, and the seeds of a collaboration were planted. All of this, mind you, occurred before CoVid made a Transatlantic barrel experiment quite a bit more complicated.
Charles bought two lots of four barrels total for Huard to send along to Couvreur. The first lot was two barrels worth of a blend of ~15% [1992 and 1990] and ~85% [2008 and 2009] distillations. (The second lot was distilled in 2012.) When the lots arrived in Bouze-lès-Beaune they were put into a recently arrived- decades old- Amontillado cask from Jerez. When we inquired from Charles which Bodega this may have come from he remarked that bottlers like Couvreur are loath to share their sources for fear of others poaching their preferred barrels. From there the spirit slowly matured as the world shrunk. In the spring of 2021, as both lots had been aging for over two years Charles received samples of both lots to check on their progress. Both he and Jean-Arnaud thought that the 2012 needed additional aging while the older four vintage blend was beautifully well developed. As Charles had suspected, the alcohol had naturally dropped over the two years in Burgundy from an initial 46% ABV to 43.5% Alcohol by volume. So, in May 2021, Charles had the Huard label appended with the fact that this bottle had spent two years in an Amontillado cask in Burgundy, lightly filtered, sealed with Couvreur’s driven cork (look for whisky on the cork), and finished with the standard red wax top. From there it took over six months to cross the ocean and arrive here in the US.
When recently asked about what he thought of the final result, Charles said he was quite happy with the finished result as the spirit retained the essence of what makes Huard interesting to him to begin with– its presence and intensity of aroma and flavor, in addition to notes it never had before with the two years in Amontillado casks. After tasting this Michael has advocated for it to be brought to you ever since.
This has a delightful nose of round baked apple tarts, slow cooked stone fruits, almond paste, forest floor, and warm baking spices. On the palate the extra richness of the sherry barrels shines through with a textured palate of flaky pastry dough, cooked fruits, marzipan and a gentle earth note.