Hubert Germain-Robin, The Maturation of Distilled Spirits: Vision & Patience , (Hayward: White Mule Press, 2016), 146 pages, $35.00. ISBN: 9780996827706
Hubert Germain-Robin comes from a long line of Cognac producers in France. But after years of training in traditional methods of distillation and maturation he moved to California to explore new possibilities. Free of the strict laws and traditions of Cognac, Germain-Robin was able to experiment and take chances in some areas while keeping the most effective traditional methods of making brandy. What resulted were some of the finest American brandies ever produced.
Germain-Robin’s newest book The Maturation of Distilled Spirits: Vision & Patience, is the follow up to Traditional Distillation: Art & Passion. In the new book Germain-Robin walks the reader through the entirety of the maturation process, from the oak that goes into the barrels, cellaring, proofing, blending and bottling the finished spirit all focused on the central theme of vision and patience. However, at 146 pages this book is more akin to a seminar than years of apprenticeship. To fully capture the wealth of knowledge that Germain-Robin learned over his lifetime of work would probably be near impossible, but the purpose of the book is to invite the reader into thinking about the active role the cellar master takes in guiding the maturation of the spirit as it sits in barrels for years or even decades.
The Maturation of Distilled Spirits is a good place to start for any distiller who wants to explore and employ traditional methods of maturation. Each chapter offers a brief explanation of a variety of maturation techniques, some of which are common in Cognac but completely novel for American whiskey. Following the theme of vision and patience, Germain-Robin explains the important role of the cellar master and how their choices and decisions serve both themselves and future generations. While creating a spirit that can age for 70-plus years is an obvious skill, so too is the patience and ability to know when to allow barrels to keep aging, when to transfer them to glass demijohns, and when to blend and bottle these older spirits.
Germain-Robin is a proponent of what some are calling “Slow Distillation,” a movement that looks to encourage the production of great spirits made from high quality ingredients with traditional techniques. U.S. craft distillers can learn much from masters like Germain-Robin and develop new traditions that will allow future generations to reap the benefits of their vision and patience.
Originally published in Distiller (Winter 2016): 151