Described by Courvoisier as ‘daring’, ‘visionary’ and ‘a first-of-its-kind collaboration’, Courvoisier Mizunara was created by the house’s recently-retired maître de chai, Patrice Pinet, and Shinji Fukuyo, chief blender of Japanese whisky maker Suntory.
The project dates back to 2015, when the president of Suntory visited Courvoisier at Jarnac shortly after Suntory took over Beam Global, the Cognac house’s then owner, in a deal worth US$16bn.
Pinet expressed an interest in experimenting with mizunara oak, and shortly afterwards was sent one virgin – meaning not previously used for maturation – 500-litre mizunara oak cask. He filled it with Grande Champagne eaux-de-vie that had already been maturing for more than 10 years in French oak.
‘I have always been intrigued by the scarcity and uniqueness of Japanese mizunara oak,’ said Pinet. ‘I knew the mizunara cask was an unconventional choice for Courvoisier and, together with Shinji, we saw the potential for the notoriously temperamental wood to enhance the unique characteristics of the exceptional Cognac, and complement the maison’s signature floral house style.’
Thibaut Hontanx, who recently took over from Pinet to become Courvoisier’s seventh maître de chai, explained that Pinet had deliberately chosen eaux-de-vie with only a light oak influence to magnify the flavours coming from the mizunara – but initial results were nonetheless disappointing.
‘They were selling these “exotic” flavours, but after six months it was very flat in terms of the aromas,’ Hontanx said. ‘The tannin was tough – there was a bitterness that didn’t want to go away.’
Fukuyo advised Pinet to be patient – ‘Take your time, it will come,’ he said – and gradually, after three years of maturation, the spirit’s character began to change. ‘Now you’ve got something completely different,’ said Hontanx. ‘You’ve got exotic fruit, pineapple, cacao, hazelnut.
‘There are flowers like jasmine and, on the palate, it’s really an explosion of aromas. You can feel the mizunara oak – you can even bite it. It’s very silky, and there’s good length.’
The Cognac was bottled at a higher than normal strength of 48% ABV, Hontanx added, to highlight the aromas coming from the mizunara oak.
Cognac’s strict rules forbid the use of the word ‘finish’ to describe an extra period of maturation in a different cask – as is commonly done in Scotch whisky, for example – and they also only allow Cognac eaux-de-vie to be aged in new oak casks, or oak casks that have previously contained wine, or wine-based products – such as Sauternes or Pineau de Charentes.
Had Courvoisier Mizunara been matured in a cask that had previously contained Japanese whisky, it would have had to be bottled as a brandy or spirit drink – although it could still have used the Courvoisier branding.
Only 500 bottles of Courvoisier Mizunara are available globally, 35 of them in the UK, for sale via retailers including Harrods, Harvey Nichols and The Whisky Exchange, plus select on-trade partners. The RRP is £2,000 for a 70cl bottle.
Courvoisier Mizunara – how does it taste?
On the nose, the fruit is positively exuberant, with juicy plums and black cherries, before slipping into more perfumed territory: candied pineapple, papaya and mango. The palate brings more of the same – just a hint of black banana too – before a powerful, drying spice character emerges, reminiscent of American rye whiskey, with an edge of chilli pepper. Bold by the standards of Courvoisier, and with plenty of grip from the cask.