It’s a matter of the past that when you think of whisky you immediately think of just one place: Scotland. While Scottish whisky is still a market leader, the sector has become far more crowded in recent years with whiskies being produced all over the world.
It may not be well known – after all, the country is best known for its fantastic beers – but that also includes Belgium. Few people are aware that Belgium is also home to a fast and rapidly emerging whisky making culture too. Referred to as ‘The Water of Life’ by the Scottish, this ambitious Belgian step into a crowded market is proving to be effective, not least for the country’s economy. There are now several whisky distilleries all over Belgium producing good quality whisky. There is even a whisky trail which gives an overview of the many whisky related places in Belgium.
The latest to venture into the market are two Belgian men, Armand and Olivier Couturier, who have launched a whisky business, based in Uccle, just on the outskirts of Brussels. They aim to demonstrate why Belgium is proving to be a phenomenal location for making world-class ‘Water of Life’. A visit to their new enterprise will help you understand every part of the whisky making process and you may also be pleasantly surprised at the subtle difference in taste that can be achieved.
Both a boutique and a tasting room, this new address is a gem for both whisky “amateurs” and a “temple” for seasoned connoisseurs. Called “Le Col de Cygne”, the premises is full of all kinds of whiskies from all over the world, not less than 450 of them in fact. These include notable and world famous distilleries such as Springbank, Macallan, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Glendronach and Glenfiddich, plus much more.
Dating back hundreds of years, the art of marking, and enjoying, whisky has been refined and polished in a variety of places around the world and Armand and Olivier now hope to add to Belgium’s fast growing reputation in the whisky market with the launch of this family business.
Both are relatively late converts to whisky. Olivier’s father and Armand’s grandfather collected whisky miniatures and these were eventually passed to Olivier. One day he decided to taste them with his wife and he found the taste to be such a revelation that he became an immediate fan. The idea now, says Olivier, is to share their new found knowledge with others with whisky tastings, degustation sessions as well as sales. Olivier says whisky “is an art and that’s what Col de Cygne is all about.”
While Scotland is home to a large number of first-rate whiskies, other producers across the world are starting to offer alternatives which are proving effective in challenging the Scots for the best whiskies. And that is something Olivier and Armand aim to showcase at their new business.
“It is,” Olivier says, “quite unique because it will appeal to both those in the know when it comes to whiskies and novices. You can taste the whiskey of your choice and this ranges from very old whiskies and those that connoisseurs assiduously seek out to the same reference produced over three generations.”
The pair also hope to dispel some of the “myths” that they say still exist when it comes to whisky. “There are still a lot of preconceived ideas about the world of whisky. Yes, it is also drunk in summer. Yes, women appreciate it as much as men. Yes, there is no longer a typical profile of whiskey lover. Yes, we can taste entry-level whisky and very high-end with the same open-mindedness”, adds Olivier.
Le Col de Cygne is available for all types of events from private to corporate. Olivier says the concept lends itself “to the organization of a friendly, interesting and qualitative tasting.” The tasting can focus on a specific theme, he adds.
Olivier and Armand, both a gold mine of information on the subject, also run a whisky club which is open to anyone over the age of 18 and which organizes a monthly tasting of 5 bottles on a particular theme. If, however, whisky really is not your thing there are still a few hand-picked spirits, wines and soft drinks available to try as an alternative.
Open Tuesday to Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., it can open later by reservation only. Closed Sunday and Monday.