“With childhood friends, we were strolling on New Year’s Eve in Aubrac. One of them said that it would be great to make a whiskey there because nothing resembles Scotland more than Aubrac!”, says Christian Bec, co-founder and director of the Twelve distillery, in Laguiole in the north of Aveyron.
Born at the dawn of 2014, in the euphoria of the day after New Year’s Eve at some 1,000 meters above sea level, the project, whose name evokes the number 12 of the department and the number of companions, “started small”. It will take six years for the first three Twelve whiskeys to see the light of day.
Among them, the Basalte blend was first qualified as “best French whiskey of the year” 2020 by expert Christine Lambert of Whiskey Magazine. She advises to “get moving to top a skittle” since only 2,200 bottles are on sale at the time.
“We were super proud!” exclaims laughing Christian Bec, 57. “We were thinking of making a garage whiskey with friends for our pleasure, selling a little to pay the costs (…) But we got caught up in the game,” he told AFP.
– Expertise of the cellar master –
The “fantasy” of the distillery took shape with the acquisition of the presbytery of the Angels, the vestige of a fort over three centuries old overlooking Laguiole. Then the neighboring former convent, a beautiful, ornate basalt house, will become an aging cellar.
But to go from dream to reality, you needed “the artist”. If the founders, including three women, have “a successful career and enough to invest”, they are aeronautics executives, surgeons, lawyers, astrophysicists, salespeople, etc. None of these “Aveyronnais of stock or heart” has ever produced alcohol.
The trigger will be, during a chance trip to a wine merchant in Normandy, the meeting with Florent Caston, a very young sommelier passionate about whiskey, whose grandfather distilled Calvados.
Its first distillate will be released in mid-2017. He refined it for three years to create Basalt, made from four casks of Pedro Ximenez (PX) sherry, red wine, rum and new oak, then blended in Sauternes casks for a year.
Every morning, this 31-year-old cellar master mixes water and malt (germinated cereal) to brew beer, the basis of all whisky, in high steel vats.
“We only work with barley to keep a precise taste (…) In the world of whiskey, we can find up to 13 cereals: millet, sorghum, spelled, rye, corn, etc. But the more there are a, the more complicated the pasta, “he explains against a background of gurgling emitted by the exhaust of carbon dioxide.
– Brew, distill, refine –
After the brewery, it joins the distillery, a large modernist steel cube with anti-explosion standards installed on the side of the building, where a gleaming copper Stupfler sits. Seven hundred liters of beer are loaded daily into this “Rolls Royce of stills”, and transformed into 70 liters of 70% alcohol.
This “white” will give the various Twelve whiskies, which today produces 100,000 bottles a year and employs six employees, for an investment of around three million euros.
Twelve “is one of the most qualitative and promising French distilleries of the moment”, specified to AFP Anne-Sophie Bigot, author of specialized works and of the blog “The Whiskey Lady”, who had a crush for the Albariza.
This single malt with aromas of sweet spices was refined in two successive sherry casks; others are in barrels that have only contained rum, vermouth or cognac, etc. “Making a whiskey just in new oak would only give plank juice”, specifies Florent, his eyes sparkling with mischief.
As for a peated whisky, Twelve is considering smoking barley with degraded wood waste. “Extracting peat is not at all ecological and the peat bogs of Aubrac are protected”, argues Christian Bec, detailing the next projects, including a malting in an old nearby farm.
“We want to source our supplies from local barley growers, produce our malt, master the different links. The goal is quality, not quantity,” he underlines.
Dreaming of “tasting a 40-year-old Twelve before he dies”, he admits that creating a whiskey distillery from scratch is not profitable in the short term. “It’s like planting a forest, for our children or even our grandchildren!”