Les Caves Byrrh in Thuir have been around for quite some time, selling a unique blend of Roussillon wines flavoured with spices and cinchona bark. I went on a discovery tour to find out more about this French aperitif. Their claim of having the largest wine oak cask in the world particularly caught my attention.
Arriving at the Caves Byrrh, I was just in time for the discovery tour, which runs several times a day. Although the cave has been around since 1873, the winery tour includes innovative techniques like high tech holograms to explain the company’s history. The history of Byrrh started with the brothers Pallade and Simon Violet. They created a “hygienic tonic” based on dry red wine from Roussillon and the original ingredient cinchona, initially sold as a medicine in pharmacies.
As in a lot of French tourist venues, the tour started with an informative film, shown in a concrete wine vat. After this, I looked round an exhibit of original Byrrh posters from 1903, which Simon’s son Lambert Violet launched into an advertisement competition. Thanks to Byrrh’s popularity at the time, they received 1900 entries. I loved looking at the original art deco designs. Via a path lined with poplars, I entered the Lambert Violet annexe. Here’s where 70 enormous oak barrels stock the liquid delight. Each of them can contain 200,000 litres, which is huge if you’re standing next to them!
At least, that’s what I thought until I met the mother of all barrels. The largest barrel in the world stands majestically in a separate cave. It took fifteen years to build this vat, which can contain 1 million litres. I have to say, I was very impressed by the sight of this colossus. After visiting this part of Les Caves Byrrh, I could only imagine the important role Byrrh has played in the lives of many men and women. In their glory days, no less then 750 people worked for Byrrh. Which was pretty much the whole community of Thuir, which had about 800 inhabitants at the time.
Until the end of the tour, I had never had the pleasure of tasting Byrrh. By the time the visit was over, I was very curious how this sweet wine would taste. Luckily, the last room we were directed into was the bar. Not just any bar, but an extraordinary and original Byrrh kiosk from 1891. And here I got my first sip of Byrrh, a pleasant mix of all kinds of aromatic spices like cinnamon and orange, and, of course, that particular cinchona hint of bitter. I could completely understand why this “medicine” turned out to be so popular in the 19th and 20th century. Only one question remains: Why call your brand Byrrh if it is an aperitif based on wine? Well, that’s something you will have to find out for yourself by visiting Les Caves Byrrh!