maandag 17 april 2023

Prepare for the old and rare – My visit to the Spirits Inn Beringen festival (6th edition)

Something to look forward to, year after year. The small but cosy spirits festival at CC Casino, in the heart of the “coal history” area of Beringen. A festival organised by the local whisky club and famous for the old and rare bottlings that are always present, open and ready for tasting. 

Directly upon entrance, my eye spotted “keeper of the quaich”, Geert De Bolle. Indeed, this whisky reseller is honoured and recognized by the exclusive international society which awards those who have shown an outstanding commitment to the Scotch Whisky Industry.
His table displayed a rich plethora of spirits, but I was attracted to one dark bottle. This bottle of 30y old Bowmore seemed to be the most expensive drink present at the festival today. A small tasting sample would set you back no less than 90 coins, which each represent the same value in euros. The most expensive dram of the festival, but also the rarest, oldest or most special? I don’t think so. 

In the back room, I had a chat with Stephen Randles, export sales manager for Boann Distillery (Ireland), today showcasing an amazing array of The Whistler, lots of bottles with different and somewhat special cask finishes. 

I decided to sample a flavour of his whisky, which received after 4,5 years of ageing an additional “Imperial Stout Finish”. I tasted some very fresh notes which would not be too bad to use this dram as an aperitif before a BBQ with a huge piece of meat in a sweet and tasty rub.

Also in the back room, Chris Lauriers, a walking whisky-encyclopaedia with whom I often work at Cinoco masterclasses. Here he was representing the Scotch Whisky Society, but I saw him sneaking away to sample some delicious spirits from other tables himself. Smart bloke indeed. Keep building that knowledge, Chris! 

Upon returning to the front room, I stopped by the table of Jeroen Aerts, I visited his distillery - ‘t Aerts Paradijs -  half a year ago and I remember that I sampled his “not yet whisky”, straight from the cask. Today I got another cask sample, the golden liquid is now exactly one year old and still in the cask. Very promising, very malty. I look forward to the result after three full years, but also to sampling and comparing the cask samples over the next two years. 

Cognac is also a strong asset for this festival. After tasting Malternative’s newest bottle (in a collaboration with Asta Morris), we headed over to Ivo Drabs, who (again!) gets my personal award for the most special bottle of the festival. 

After my tasting glass was rinsed with one of his cheaper bottles (I’m not kidding!), Ivo poured me a dram of his very last tasting bottle of Cognac Mauxion Sélection Bons Bois, distilled in 1900. Yes, you read that right. Distilled in the year 1900!!!. A staggering 123 years ago, my grandparents weren’t even born yet. This spirit has aged for 70 years in an oak barrel, then another 52 years in dame-jeannes (a double ageing process they seem to apply for Cognac). Last year Ivo bought one of the remaining dame-jeannes and bottled 42 bottles at 48,2% alcohol. As said, this was the very last bottle of that batch, but Ivo recently bought a second identical dame-jeanne (probably the last of its kind), which is being bottled as we speak, this time in a more luxurious edition. 

Was this the oldest spirit of the festival? Without any doubt. Was it any good? The spirit still had punch, but no aggressive burning that stuns your tastebuds, like some cognacs tend to do. This one is all flavour and taste. Fruity and fresh with tones of peaches and figs, what you probably wouldn’t expect from such an old spirit. This is one of the best spirits I have ever tasted. A unique experience for sure. 

Of course, this wasn’t all there was available to sample, I just tried to detect the most special bottles in the room, but that’s of course a personal opinion slightly guided by some of my friends who were organising this festival. If you want to see or learn more, visit this festival next year!

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