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Copper Fox: Craft Distiller

By Jason Pyle

The term “craft” is a word that’s used all too frequently to describe many of the small whiskey producers in the United States today. Shouldn’t “craft” mean something more than dumping less than six month old corn whiskey from a five or 10-gallon barrel? I think so. I believe most whiskey consumers and enthusiasts believe so too.

One such American operation where the term rings true is Sperryville, VA’s Copper Fox Distillery. What’s this small producer doing that’s so unique and different?

Copper Fox Distillery

They don’t just USE floor malted barley, they actually floor malt it themselves on premises

The pride and joy of Copper Fox Distillery is the operation’s use of traditional floor malted barley. They don’t just USE floor malted barley in their whiskeys, they actually floor malt it themselves on premises. During a time where Scotland has seen its number of floor malting facilities dwindle; Copper Fox has burst on the scene as the only distillery in the United States malting barley in this manner.

Rick Wasmund, owner and distiller, spent a six-week internship at Bowmore distillery on Islay, Scotland prior to opening Copper Fox. Wasmund believes the internship was instrumental in helping the distillery execute on his vision of creating the first 100 per cent floor malted single malt whiskey in the U.S.

Great whiskey starts with great raw ingredients. Copper Fox sources the barley they use from local Virginia farms. The strain of barley was developed by nearby Virginia Tech University. It was created specifically for the climate and soil conditions of the region. As a result the terroir from the land is present in the finished whiskeys.

Beyond the malting process, Copper Fox puts an American twist on the use of smoke for drying the barley. Rather than traditional peat smoke, Copper Fox makes use of local fruit wood. Let’s remember that Virginia is in the Southeastern region of the U.S, otherwise known as barbeque country. Wasmund wouldn’t confirm, but I’d like to think that had a little something to do with the decision to use the fragrant smoke from apple and cherry wood. The resulting smoke is softer, sweeter, and more floral than the campfire-like aromas and flavors from peat.

Fruit wood is not only used in the malting process. Wasmund makes little teabag-like packages of heavily toasted fruit wood chips that are steeped in the whiskey while it ages in refill bourbon barrels. This process adds additional complexity in the form spice and toasty aromas and flavors.

Currently, Copper Fox is aging their Single Malt and Rye Whiskey for about 12 to 16 months. Each year the distillery has been able to increase the average age. For a small operation it’s tough to build up a stock of whiskey older than a few years, but Copper Fox is determined to get there sooner than later.

Rick Wasmund is the first to admit that Copper Fox’s strict adherence to traditional methods is cost prohibitive. The results however are tough to argue with. They are also “craft” to the core.

Wasmund’s Single Malt Whiskey

Wasmund’s Single Malt Whiskey

48% abv (96 Proof)

Perfumed by the sweet wood smoke, the nose of Wasmund’s Single Malt Whiskey brings cedar, pencil shavings, toasted wood spices (cinnamon and clove), and a deep earthiness. Maple syrup adds needed sweetness. Toffee, sour fruits, cinnamon sugar, and floral (honeysuckle) flavors emerge on the palate. Smoky back notes lead to a sweet and woody finish.

Copper Fox Rye Whiskey

Copper Fox Rye Whiskey

45% abv (90 Proof)

Copper Fox’s Rye Whiskey uses 66% rye grain with a whopping 33% of their floor malted, fruit wood smoked barley. The result is a fruity and smokier rye. Cinnamon bark, dusty rye, honeysuckle, smoke, flint, and burnt sugar make for a vibrant and spicy/floral nose. The palate shows off a mildly sweet side. It begins with hard caramel candy, youthful rye, orchard fruits, and a resinous wood “grip” that makes way for a whisper of sweet smoke on the finish.