Perhaps you are wondering what an article about a brandy distillery is doing on a bourbon website? I was wondering something along those lines myself when the media tour I was doing before the Bourbon Classic pulled up to Copper & Kings American Brandy Company. We had just come from Peerless Distilling Company in downtown Louisville. I had spent the morning tasting a very promising rye whiskey and talking DSP numbers, family history, and mash bills. It all felt very comfortable and exactly what you expect from a distillery in Louisville, Kentucky. Pulling up to Copper & Kings and seeing the bright orange reclaimed shipping containers, the butterfly garden, and bike racks, and the super stylish firepit in their courtyard made me feel like we were no longer in bourbon country.
Inside we learned from Joe Heron, co-owner of Copper & Kings, that the beautiful pot stills they use are named Isis, Magdalena, and Sara, all women mentioned in Bob Dylan songs. The musical influence does not end there. After showing off the still and explaining some of the differences between distilling brandy and distilling whiskey, Joe took us to the basement where they were playing ACDC to their brandy barrels. They described the process as Sonic Aging. As their website explains:
“The alcohol molecule being less dense than a water molecule starts to move and collide with other alcohol molecules inside the barrels which eventually collide with the barrel wall which starts to create a ‘distillate wave’ inside the barrel resulting in increased frequency of contact over time between the distillate with the barrel walls and in our opinion enhances maturation.”
I need to stress that this was not meant to be something that “force ages” the brandy. Their brandy ages in new charred white oak barrels as well as used bourbon barrels for a respectable 2 or more years. And while it seems logical that there is some effect on the aging process by playing music to their barrels, I got the impression that the music was as much about adding a spiritual flavor to the brandy, as it was about taste. At this point I have to admit that I was ready to roll my eyes, get my free tasting, and get back to drinking whiskey. I am an art and music lover. I even love hipsters, sustainability, and butterfly gardens. But I wasn’t used to having all of these things so tightly linked to spirits production and I was skeptical. Then we went for that tasting.
This is not your grandmother’s brandy. I was expecting something sweet and lower proof. Instead I got to try a complex and bold spirit that would pass for a sweet bourbon at first taste. Copper & Kings flagship brand is the American Craft Brandy, a 90 proof small batch that is non-chill filtered. It was good but what really won us over was the Butchertown Reserve, their premium brandy. At a robust 124 proof this was some serious grape juice. A blend of distiller selected reserve casks, it is 75% aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels and 25% in new American oak. It was delicious and something any whiskey lover would enjoy sipping. I am not always a fan of pot still spirits but this won me over. Not at all what I was expecting when I first heard the phrase “sonic aging.”
I ended up coming home with a bottle of their limited edition Craftwerk-Against the Grain brandy. They take their Butchertown Reserve and then double age it in a barrel that had been used to make barrel aged beer, in this case the smoked Scottish Ale from Against the Grain brewery in Louisville. Of the group of bourbon bloggers I was with, this was our hands down favorite of the line. We knew it was unlikely to be around for long so almost all of us picked up a bottle. Good thing we did because I heard it sold out in a few weeks.
Copper & Kings is also promoting their unaged brandy as a more flavorful clear spirit for your favorite cocktails. It must be working because when I stopped into my favorite new bar in Cincinnati, The Overlook Lodge, they were featuring it in a drink on their spring menu, the “What’s Up Doc.” I tried it and it was fantastic.
In the end, I tried a lot of bourbon during the four days I was at The Bourbon Classic. Some of it was amazing. Some of it was forgettable. But there were not a lot of things I tried that weekend that surprised me. Copper & Kings surprised me. They are producing great product with integrity and they are winning over bourbon lovers in the heart of Louisville. I don’t think brandy will ever replace whiskey as my go-to spirit to sip, but it did make me rethink my prejudices. It taught me that if I am open minded, even my bourbon soaked heart can learn to appreciate something new.