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  • Writer's pictureStuart Pearce

Let's get fruity, episode 1 - Quince

Updated: Jun 16

An obscure tasting series, so why not start with an obscure fruit!



Quince (aka Quitte, Coing, Mele Cotogne) is an aromatic, bright golden-yellow pome fruit similar to apple or pear, but tough and requires careful treatment.

The quince. Ugly or beautiful? Credit for this awesome photo goes to www.capreolusdistillery.co.uk


Quince may look like pears but they are almost completely inedible until cooked.  The hard texture does not soften when ripe, if you find a soft one then it's probably gone bad.

Historically the most common pome fruit, Quince are most likely the iconic fruit featured in Greek and Roman paintings & prose - its popularity (and historical significance) has been completely pirated by the cheeky pears and apples. But fear not, its beauty will be celebrated today!

Quince is extremely high in pectin, a natural gelling agent. Hence the association with jams and jellies. But the main quince fact we're interested in today is the captivating fragrance - vanilla & orange, sweet & sour peach, ripe juicy pear. Yum.


Preparing quince is a hefty job. It's covered in a fine fluff that contains an essential oil that becomes rancid after distillation. Washing each fruit by hand removes every trace of this fluff.

Dry and tannic, the hard flesh needs a lot of elbow grease to press it into a mash suitable for the months of wild fermentation.


No idea what to expect from quince? Me neither! So after a whole bunch of reading I did what any decent researcher would do, and had quince marmalade for breakfast. It's tasty stuff, less sharp than orange and much more fragrant. If you're interested in trying some, I got mine from the garden pantry in Norfolk.



Distiller profile - Capreolus

As promised, in each episode I'll be doing a little write-up on one of the amazing characters from the fruit distilling family. Kicking things off with Barney Wilczak of Capreolus Distillery.


From hobby, to career, to obsession Barney's love affair with fruit started with a deep investigation of techniques used in Austria, Germany, Italy, France and across

Eastern Europe. Starting with a small still, in a shed in his family's garden, Capreolus was born and Barney's passion and learning have gone from strength to strength. In the niche little world of fruit magic, Barney is now revered as one of the wizards.


By happy coincidence, Barney is also an exceptional photographer with a previous career as a photojournalist for conservation projects around the world. So you have him to thank for a lot of the amazing shots scattered through this series of articles.


Based in Cirencester on the edge of the beautiful Cotswolds, Barney's obsessive, passionate approach produced results that quickly got him noticed by by spirits buyers and spirit enthusiasts around the globe.


I've chosen to start my profiles with Capreolus because, no only do they tick every box in their efforts to produce the perfect spirit, but they are fantastically transparent about it. Their beautiful and informative website, with it's incredible photography and reams of information, is a treasure trove for anyone interested in the subject.


A few highlights of Barney's obsessive approach...

Fruit sourcing - this is absolutely the number 1 takeaway for me. His self imposed 50 mile limit doesn't seem to be a problem when sourcing the very best produce. Capreolus is basically situated in a fruit mecca. Gloustershire and the Cotwolds is a stunning rural area with a huge variety of top producers. And Barney seems to have built incredible relationships with them all!


The process of preserving the essence of this amazing fruit, by turning it into Eau de Vie, should come as no surprise ... very long wild fermentation and pot distilling, of course.


Finally, bottling the magic. After selecting the very finest fruit. In perfect condition. The huge efforts involved in manually sorting & preparing. Months of laborious wild fermentation. Multiple runs through the pot still. The tiny quantities of elixir need to be packaged and presented appropriately. And Capreolus have delivered here too. Labels printed on a traditional antique letterpress and then hand written. UV resistant tall slender bottles, natural corks, and cartons to match.


Topically ... just last month Capreolus bought 5 acres of stunning organic pasture; south facing, 8.1% organic matter, that hasn’t been ploughed for 30 year. Barney has ordered 252 quince trees which will make up part of a mixed orchard and mosaic of habitat. They'll hopefully also be adding a new wooden distillery on the site!


I can't wait to try the first Quince Eau de Vie from their own orchard!


And finally to the tasty bit...

Six tiny dribbles of clear, pure fruit essence. Tasted in the same random order I put the lead photo together. 10-15ml of each, left to open up for 30 mins, all nosed first, then tasted. Assisted today by my highlight from last weekend's incredible Red Rooster festival... the uber-talented Kitty Liv.


Disclaimer... before we go further I should be open about my reservations. I have three serious doubts about this tasting (and the whole fruity summer madness) ...


  1. Do all quince distillates taste largely the same?

  2. To someone partial to cask strength rums, does a 40-45% abv Eau de Vie taste thin and overly light?

  3. Do I like quince at all?? Other than a sweet jelly to accompany my Christmas cheeseboard, before today I had zero experience of this mysterious fruit.



Capovilla Mele Cotogne 2018, Italy, 41%, 543btls, £70 (500ml)

Tasted today from a beautiful 200ml miniature bottle. Given that these drinks are rare treats - having these minis available is a great option. Gianni Capovilla needs no introduction, the grandfather and living legend of fruit distilling. I have been fortunate to meet him on a couple of occasions - his humble and passionate approach to life is infectious.


Nose: What a start. A thing of beauty. Thick and gloopy with long legs running down the glass. Worry 1 immediately dispelled - 41% abv works perfectly, nothing light or thin here. A superbly delicate, yet powerful, sweet & sour nose. The perfume is off the scale - roses, heady pear, and rosewater. Balanced bitterness. Just wow. Mesmerizing. I'm tempted to sack of writing stuff that nobody will read and to settle in a comfy chair to smell this for an hour. Endless super fresh pear, initially I could have believed this was pear rather than quince but later you get notes of spicy peach and just a hint of apple confirming the quince complexity.


Mouth: Special stuff. I'm gobsmacked that a 41% abv dram can have a finish that lasts over 2 mins. At this rate the tasting is going to take all day. The bold yet delicate perfume of the nose carries completely onto the palate. A little less pear, a bit more highly fragrant sweet & sour melon. Tropical, like a soursop. Amazing gritty pear texture. This much fragrance on the palate is something I've never experienced. Stunning. [91+pts]



Kolonko Quitte 2018, Germany, 44%, 53btls, £110 (200ml)

The rarest, and most expensive of the lineup. Johannes Kolonko is a micro artisan producer from Freiburg in South West Germany. This release, reflective of his extreme craft approach in searching for perfection, is just 10 litres in total! Hence the price. Kolonko distillates are stunningly presented in little 200ml bottles. I'll be doing a profile on him in a future episode.


Nose: Less perfume, more fruit. Worry 2, gone - wildly different from the Capovilla. One quince distillate is, as you would expect from the huge potential differences in approach, technique, and ingredients, very very different from the next. Much more depth than the first. A chewier, drier nose. Less of the heady pear & rosewater, much more deep fruity richness.


Mouth: A gloopy thick texture. Rich and opulent. A little more sharpness. I can taste all the aspects of the fruit, The skin, the stem, the whole shebang. The taste here comes in waves, fruity quince playing against drier heavier oily pot still notes. Where the Capovilla sang one stunningly clean chord for a full 2 minutes, this is playing a little tune. The added dimensions and complexity are very welcome and make for a special and complex dram. [92pts]



Capreolus Quince 2022, UK, 43%, 482btls, £110 (500ml)

Our first dram from today's profiled distiller. Presented exquisitely in tall slender 500ml dark bottles. Every touch is perfect, from the matching box to the labels printed on a traditional letterpress and then handwritten with each bottle individually numbered.


Nose: Edging closer to the Capovilla, with heady perfumed pear and rosewater. But still very different and very unique. This super special dram has notes of mandarin orange and a pinch of menthol. It's spicier with a touch of pepper & citrus. Stunningly clean and fresh, another distillate that I could happily spend hours just nosing.


Mouth: Again, a whole different experience. And again, it's an absolute treat. When you're alone and start saying "yum" out loud, you know it's great stuff. The effort that goes into these distillates is evident and pays huge dividends. Bold yet delicate flavours that taste like someone has squeezed the aromas and flavours of a whole quince tree, every fruit, every drop of juice, into a single mouthful. Sooo juicy. Utterly wonderful. [92+pts]




Gölles Quitte, Austria, 43%, not a limited bottling, £50 (350ml)

A continuous release from the well regard Austrian distiller. Located in the SE of the country, not far from the Hungarian border, Gölles produce vinegar and aged brandies, as well as the fruit distillates I shall be reviewing over the series.


Nose: Another big face smash of fruit. Less delicate this time. Rich, candied, vegetal with a hint of acetone and an unfortunate slight touch of curdled off-vegetables. Not bad but a mile from the first three.


Mouth: Less curdled notes on the palate, just ripe fruit, lime zest and some caramelized root vegetables. Thinner mid-palate than the first three. Some unexpected cherry and brine pop up and complement the quince. Not quite the incredible vibrance or length of finish seen elsewhere, but an interesting and tasty drop. [83-pts]



G. Miclo Coing, France, 40%, not a limited bottling, £35 (500ml)

The most affordable of the lineup, and readily available. This spirit is a continuous release, relatively widely available, from French producer G. Miclo.


Nose: A different one again. Starts with rancid and slightly curdled fruit. There are even touches of old meat and dairy. Some good fruit - quince, pear and old strawberries, just missing the freshness and completeness of the first three. A quieter one - you have to search for the flavours rather than have them jump out the glass and slap you around the face.


Mouth: Disappointingly thin. As with the Gölles, the taste is cleaner and not much of the curdled taste carries through from the nose, but it's just not doing it for me. The earlier drams have bright freshness that is lost here. I can identify a bit of rotten quince, and sweet & sour pear, but that's the only positives. It's priced well, and not a bad spirit but its main benefit for me is to reinforce how different these can be and how great the best ones are [77pts]



Metté Coing, France, 42%, not a limited bottling, £55 (500ml)

Another continuous bottling from a producer in the Eastern Haut-Rhin region of France. G.Miclo and Metté are only 10 miles apart, with Kolonko almost as close just over the border in Germany.


Nose: Jumps out the glass! Happily back to a cleaner, brighter fruit profile. A fresh bold nose. Very juicy. Layers of fruit, mostly pear but with a good dollop of the sweet and sour signature quince flavours. And a big splash of ripe strawberries. Bright and inviting.


Mouth: Clean and fresh, with touches of bitterness & acidity fighting to keep things together. Bright fruit with a warm peppery aftertaste. Pleasing chalky texture. Mid palate is a bit thin and the finish isn't as long or exciting as the first three but overall a tasty dram and excellent value. [85pts]



Conclusions:

Let's start by addressing my 3 reservations...


  1. Do all quince distillates taste largely the same?

Nope. Far from it. :-)


2. To someone partial to cask strength rums, does a 40-45% abv Eau de Vie taste thin or overly light?

Again, happily no. The intensity and completeness of the best examples is incredible. You're not going to see notes you're used to in my rum reviews ... you can forget funky high ester, heavy tannic caramel oak, rich sherry-finishes. No monster, punchy, unapproachable drams here. They're also not going to be a session spirit or even something you reach for every day. But the best examples are seductive, charming, classy, elegant, intense and enchanting. A tiny drop goes a long way and after dinner or with a cheeseboard I can't think of anything better.


3. Do I like quince at all?? Other than a sweet jelly to accompany my Christmas cheeseboard I have zero experience of this mysterious fruit.

Three yesses, phew. Quince has a knockout fragrance, both on the nose and palate. I love it.


What a start to the series, a little goes a long way with the fruit distillates and I can't wait for the next tasting.


In terms of both concentration of flavour, and of dazzling elegance, the first three reviewed - Capovilla, Capreolus and Kolonko, are next level.

They're not cheap, but the intensity, purity and sheer quality demonstrate the effort these producers go to in their 'no expense spared' search for perfection. Honorable mention to Metté for a great value, fun, juicy offering.


The Capovilla won on the nose, the Kolonko win's for it's complexity, but overall, by a hair, the Capreolus is crowned today's champion. I can't imagine a drink that better honours its single ingredient - Barney's quince has most definitely made me smile. The intensity of flavour shouldn't be a surprise, he presses, ferments and distils almost 15kg of quince for every little bottle!


For further reading and reviews I recommend clear libations, a spirits blog focusing on (surprise surprise) clear unoaked spirits - lots of reviews of Eau de Vie, and some rums and other spirits.


Next up, Apricot! And I'll be profiling Will Edge of Greensand Ridge Distillery.






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