When you think of Kentucky, you don’t exactly think of brandy and when you tour said brandy distillery, you don’t expect to put your tag on a barrel. But then again, as with Alice’s “Drink Me” potion sometimes up is down, the path is blurred and things are not exactly what they seem.
Copper & Kings is a brandy distillery that burst onto the scene recently with the release of some incredible brandies and grape based absinthe. We stocked their product soon after tasting it- while there are many craft producers that seem to be finding their branding and style, Copper & Kings came to the table with both of these elements done beautifully. They offered an exceptionally well made, focused product that was well packaged and marketed. So while in Kentucky to select our next Knob Creek Single Barrel, we figured we’d stop in to Copper & Kings and check out just what the hell was going on over there.
The distillery is sitting in a neighborhood of Louisville called Butchertown- a name derived from the meat packing business that used to dominate the area. There is one small processor remaining across the street and the tales of screaming pigs almost made us reconsider bacon. ALMOST. The area is one of several up and coming parts of Louisville that are part of what some would call a “hipster revival”. I concede the term sounds negative, but in my mind it’s not at all. Think- independent, well conceived food and drink places without the stiff collars and a little bit of grit. This is happening in urban centers around the country and I, for one, am all for it. Copper & Kings embodies this urban renaissance and adds a well funded shine. They’ve employed repurposed shipping containers for structures on your arrival- a small gift shop, greeting area and food prep area for parties. They’ve installed butterfly gardens in the front and taken what looks to have been a (pardon my french) total piece of shit building, blown off the cobwebs and turned it into a GORGEOUS distillery and event space.
Copper & Kings head distiller, Brandon gave as the skinny on the beautiful, mad scientistey copper pot stills that dominate the distillery- three alembic copper pot stills hand made by one of the leading manufacturers, and Butchertown neighbor, Vendome. Lots of shiny copper, piping to take the spirit to all parts of the building, glass peep holes and a gin basket that protrudes through to the second floor art gallery which is used to jam all of those botanicals in for their delicious absinthe. A lot of thought went into both preserving the character of this old structure while providing Brandon an incredible tool box to play with.
Producing brandy (and brandy based absinthe) means starting with grape juice. And since you don’t hear many folks talking about the great wine growing region of Kentucky, Copper & Kings sources their juice from California wineries. After distillation, the brandy is barreled and rested in the basement- a cool, subterranean area with music blasting. I’d heard about their sonic aging techniques and was prepared to call bullshit, but as it was explained I began to understand. It’s commonly understood that 70% of a spirit’s flavor is derived from its contact with wood. Copper & Kings is testing the theory that by blasting music as the spirit ages, the vibration in the liquid and the barrel causes more interaction with the wood and positively affects the end product. Certainly, more testing would have to be done to determine if it’s true or not, but the basement rocked regardless.
This is where things started to get interesting… Brandon told us a bit about his background- a personal and family history in winemaking and distilling. He showed us the work they were doing with unique barrels- beer barrels on loan from partner breweries, sherry butts, port pipes and some unique wood you don’t normally see in a distillery. He then mentioned there were around ten barrels aging in bourbon casks that they had selected for a single barrel program. Our ears perked up.
We sidestepped through some very tight racking with a drill and some hand scrawled notes. Brandon had some “honey barrels” identified and we went down the line checking them out. While all were incredible, it came down to two- one aged in a Willett barrel and another in a Woodford Reserve barrel. While the former had the name appeal that would make everyone go crazy- the latter had the quality in the juice. Explosive and all encompassing bourbon flavor with a finish that lingers far beyond your typical bourbon. The nose is just like bourbon and while the flavor is very similar, it activates all parts of the palate. “This is brandy, right?” I asked. We were totally blown away by this spirit, but a bit nervous by the word “Brandy” on the label. We knew if blind tasted, this bottle would sell itself, but most people come to us for whiskey, not brandy, so there would be some education required. Luckily, we had traveled to Kentucky with a friendly competitor who was similarly blown away. We agreed to split the barrel. Our Copper & Kings Cask Strength Single Barrel (from a Woodford Reserve barrel) is now available!