The beauty of being a family owned and run cognac house is the freedom to experiment and innovate. The house’s most exciting project to date is the Camus Caribbean Expedition.
Finishing is a term used to describe a final ageing period in casks previously used to age another spirit or wine. Rather than simply finish cognac in rum casks, Camus has undertaken its Caribbean Expedition to push the boundaries of finishing in a quest to add extra layers of complexity.
Throughout the 18th and a good part of the 19th-century, cognac was shipped around the world in oak casks by boat, arriving at its destination after months of sailing with the extended voyage dramatically impacting the character of the cognac. As shipping in glass bottles replaced shipping by cask, so this period of oceanic maturation was lost.
The Camus Caribbean Expedition reintroduces oceanic maturation, exposing ten specially selected cognac casks to the continuous motion of a tall sailing ship, shaking and stirring the cognac inside the barrels, so amplifying wood contact. Climatic changes during the 45-day voyage through the transatlantic route to Barbados will also accelerate the ageing process as the ship crosses different climatic areas to dock in the Caribbean heat.
The maritime climate is expected to impart iodine and salty flavours. Changes in atmospheric pressure during the voyage will also increase the mechanic effect of contraction and expansion of the oak staves, so absorbing and then excreting the cognac from the wood’s pores.
The ten casks will land in Bridgetown, Barbados where Richard Seale, Master Distiller of the historic Foursquare rum distillery, will place the casks in one of his warehouses for a further year of maturation in tropical climate conditions. The casks will then be returned to France where the contents will be bottled to become the first cognac double aged in oceanic and tropical conditions. This one-off experimental series will be limited to a maximum of 5,000 bottles (subject to a reduction of liquid during the expedition) released by the end of 2020 with 1,000 of these bottles available for a sale en primeur.
Temperatures in Barbados vary between 21°C and 30°C with an average humidity of 72% reaching a peak of 99% during the wet season from June to November. Aging in this tropical heat causes around 10% evaporation of spirit compared to 2% in cooler climates so accelerating the maturation process by a factor of 2.85 (e.g. 6 years of ageing for a rum in the Caribbean correspond to 17 years of ageing for a whisky in Scotland from the point of view of the cask fill level).
Camus’ ten 350 litre casks containing eaux-de-vie already at their 4th year of ageing at 48% alc./vol. set sail on their transatlantic Caribbean Expedition on 23rd November 2018 from the port of La Rochelle. Depending on the trade winds, they are expected to arrive in Bridgetown by the 10th of January 2019.
The sailing ship chosen is the De Gallant, a haring logger sailing boat built in 1916 in Vlaardingen, Netherlands and mostly used for fishing. The De Gallant is now owned and operated by TOWT, a company specialising in the transport of goods by sail, reviving an environmentally friendly mode of transportation to addresses current and future environmental issues. Wind energy allows the transport of goods, both regionally and internationally, while considerably limiting CO2 emissions compared to conventional modes of transport.