Melbourne, FL – June 15, 2014 – Let us get it straight from the onset, I am not a whiskey drinker. I never acquired the taste for a single malt whiskey over rocks or any kind of shooters at your local bar or pub. Give a god old cold beer and I am good. Now that does not mean that I have not had a good shot of whiskey now and then. I have been known, if I am in the right company, to have a shot or two. But that does not happen too often. No let’s get on with my story.
I happened upon the Copper Fox Distillery because I was in Sperryville, VA for my son’s wedding. You see he lived in Alexandria, VA and has made all the vineyards that dot the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge his stomping grounds. He sure likes great wine and this region of Virginia has many great wineries. A few years ago my wife and I were hosted to a wine a tour of all the vineyards in the Sperryville area. When I got back home to Florida, I wrote an article on our trip. What about Whiskey? Yes I know this about whiskey not wine. Sorry to get off track. Thomas recommended that we tour the Copper Fox because he and his best man Hays had just taken the tour the weekend before while scouting the area before his wedding. He got married at the Sharp Rock Vineyard in Sperryville, VA.
Tucked away on a side road in Rappahannock County, in the city limits of Sperryville is the Copper Fox Distillery. Rick Wasmund is the owner and operator of the distillery. He started the Copper Fox distillery in 2000. Rick really caught the whiskey bug on a trip to Scotland where he searched his Scottish roots. On his trip to Scotland, he was offered an internship at the famous Bowmore Distillery in the village of Bowmore in Scotland where he learned the whiskey distilling craft.
COPPER FOX DISTILLERY - Slides # 1 & 2 – The distillery and main entrance.
TOUR START - Slide # 3 - The tour started in front of the Malt Room where we were give an overview of the different distilled whiskeys and spirits that are produced by the Copper Fox. Jesse Puckett was our tour guide. He was very knowledgeable about the entire distilling process. He did a great job.
MALTING - Slide #4 & 5 – The Copper Fox is one of the few American distilleries to hand-malt their barley. All the barley used by the Copper Fox is locally grown. The barley comes to the Copper Fox in 1,000 pound bags (Upper left photo). Inside the Malt Room is where the malting process turns barley into malt. Locally grown malt is wet in the tank (Bottom right photo). After being wet, the barley is spread onto the malt floor to start the germination process (Middle and top photos). This is where a chemical reaction starts that turns the starch in the wet barley into sugar which in turn will be turned into whiskey or spirits at the end of the distilling process. The malting process at the Copper Fox lasts a minimum of 4 days. During this time the barley is turned by hand to ensure a constant moisture and temperature and to control the germination process. Many of today’s distilleries have given up on the use of a malt floor with manual barley turning. The Copper Fox is continuing the manual malting process Rick Wasmund learned during his internship at Bowmore.
BARLEY DRYING - Slide # 6 – The next step in the distilling process is to dry the germinating barley in a kiln (top left photo on this slide). The kiln is heated by using local apple and cherry wood and the old whiskey barrel staves. The germination stops when the barley is dried in the kiln.
When the malt is dry, it is ground into a kind of coarse flour which will be used in the next distilling operations. This flour is called grist.
MASHING - Slide #6 - The grist is transferred into a 528 gallon mash tank where grist is mixed with hot water (Center photo). In this tank the starch in the grist is changed into fermenting sugars. The mix of water and grist looks like a kind of traditional porridge (Upper Right Photo). This sugared juice is called mash.
FERMENTING - Slide # 7 – The mash is added to fermenting tank along with yeast. The yeast converts the sugar to alcohol. After three or four days, the resulting liquid is about 10% alcoholic and is known as distiller’s beer or wash.
DISTILLING – Slide # 8 - The wash is added to the distilling tanks where it is heated to the point where the alcohol turns to vapor, but the water remains liquid. The alcohol is then collected in a second tank. This process is repeated to produce “new whiskey”.
AGING – Slide # 9 - Water is added to the new whiskey which is aged in wooden oak barrels usually made from charred white oak. Here the whiskey is aged at least four years.
BOTTLING & LABELING – Slide # 10 - After aging the whiskey is filed into glass bottles which do not react with the whiskey’s flavor. Devin Sherwood is the Copper Fox employee who shown labeling bottles in this slide. Devin is also seasoned tour guide. I am told that he really give a real enthusiastic tour of the Copper Fox.
BOTTLE SEALING – Slide # 11 – After bottle filling and labeling, each bottle neck is hand dipped in wax. Each bottle is carefully rotated to ensure that no drips are exhibited on the bottle neck. This is done as not infringe upon the Makers Mark dripping red wax seal trademark. Back in 2012, Jose Cuervo tequila lost a court case brought by Makers Mark where as the Sixth Circuit affirmed a federal district court's ruling that the maker of Maker's Mark Kentucky bourbon has enforceable trade dress rights in its dripping red wax seal. The Copper Fox Distillery is very conscious of how Makers Mark protects their patent.
WHISKEY & SPIRIT DISPLAYS – Slides # 12 & 13 – This slide exhibits photos of the different whiskey and spirit bottles that were displayed throughout the tour and in the gift shop. If you are an avid whiskey drinker and you enjoy craft whiskey, you will not go wrong in getting a bottle of Copper Fox Single Malt Whiskey or any of their other spirits. They even have an interesting gin if you are inclined.
The Copper Fox gift shop has the full lineup of whiskies and spirits for sale as well as glasses, t-shirts and hats.
AWARDS – Slide # 14 – Over the years Copper Fox has won many gold and silver whisky awards from different judging organizations for their craft whiskey.
CIVIL WAR MARKER – Slide # 15 - As a side note, about 300 yards from the distillery in a large field by the beautiful North Fork of the Thornton River was a Virginia Civil War Trail marker. This sign mark the spot of where the Union Army’s German Corp, under the command of Major General Frantz Sigel, camped for a month while they were in Rappahannock County.
We had a great time at the Copper Fox.
Until next time, be safe in the sun and have a great day in the great outdoors.