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ACSA Member Spotlight

Distilling in Harmony Musical appreciation inspires creativity and an innovative approach to crafting brandy and more spirits at Copper & Kings American Brandy Co. BY JON PAGE

Spirits never rest in the cellar at Copper & Kings American Brandy Co. Twenty-four hours a day, an eclectic mix of music echoes through the basement at the distillery in the Butchertown neighborhood of Louisville, Kentucky. Thanks to five subwoofers and a Spotify playlist that rotates daily (recent artists include Phish, T-Pain and Nick Cave), pulsing bass notes force alcohol molecules to collide with the barrel walls, thus enhancing maturation of the distillery’s aging brandies. While Copper & Kings co-founder Joe Heron and master distiller Brandon O’Daniel agree that this sonic aging is more of a fun conversation piece than a scientifically proven method of speeding up time in a barrel, the inherent message is loud and clear: music plays an instrumental role at Copper & Kings. “We’re not a manufacturing facility. We’re a distillery where you distill creativity and art and music, but you also have your heart and soul in it,” says Heron, who founded Copper & Kings with his wife, Lesley, in 2014. “We’ve said often that we’re like a band. You might not like all the songs, but we really want you to like the music.” The musical ties start with the distillery’s name, which is meant to sound like a band (a la Kings of Leon, Band of Horses and Iron & Wine). The distillery’s greatest hit, so to speak, is its best-selling 90-proof American Craft Brandy. Other products have an explicit connection to music (like The Ninth. A Symphony in Orange Gin) and the cocktails at the Copper & Kings bar are grouped by musical styles (Classics, Covers, Indies, etc.). Then there are the copper pot stills, all of them named after women in Bob Dylan songs. The first three, Sara (50 gallons), Magdalena (750 gallons) and Isis (1,000 gallons) are mentioned in Dylan’s album “Desire.” The

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latest addition, Rose Marie is a 2,000-gallon pot installed this summer. “They are just absolutely gorgeous to look at and they are so much fun to work,” says O’Daniel. “Everything is done by hand. There’s nothing mechanical on them.” Fittingly, a love of music helped O’Daniel and the Herons hit it off. Before joining Copper & Kings, O’Daniel was a winemaker in northern Kentucky. The Herons—who had previously founded and sold Nutrisoda and Crispin Cider—tracked down O’Daniel to help them make pilot batches of brandy distilled from native American grapes. The Herons interviewed numerous whiskey distillers who told them they wouldn’t be able to make good tasting brandy that was unadulterated, with no boisé. O’Daniel saw things differently. “He was really interested, as a winemaker, in the fruit,” says Heron. “Because that’s the first conversation about brandy: fruit. It always is. And then you’ll talk about fermentation.” O’Daniel, who has a master’s degree in horticulture management from the University of Kentucky, was awestruck when he officially interviewed for the job at Copper & Kings. “I fell in love with the pot stills as soon as I saw them,” says O’Daniel. “And I was small enough to climb into the tanks and fill them, and I got hired. I’ve been here ever since and I have not looked back.” Today, the distillery’s product lineup includes gins, Destillaré liqueurs, absinthe, cocktail bitters and garnished cherries, but the focus remains on what Heron frequently describes as American Brandy, with a capital A and a capital B. Before opening Copper & Kings, the Herons saw a large gap between what they call “cheap and sweet California brandy” and more expensive brands of Cognac. There was no $35 “trade-up vehicle” with an American focus.

“No one had stood up for an American ethos, philosophy, attitude and process for making brandy,” says Heron. “That was when we really felt like, this is interesting, American brandy at a small-batch bourbon price point, that sounds like an opportunity.” Beyond the flagship American Craft Brandy, the distillery’s brandy portfolio includes the 100-proof Floodwall American Craft Apple Brandy, 90-proof Immature Brandy, 124-proof Butchertown Brandy and the recently released 92-proof American Craft Apple Brandy Aged in Kentucky Bourbon and New American Oak Barrels. Limited releases are announced on what seems like a monthly basis, with recent examples including Way Up West American Brandy and Riding With The King. Those limited releases are years in the making, and they start with informal conversations among O’Daniel, the Herons and creative director Ron Jasin. “You have to build it from the ground up,” says Joe Heron. “It’s not something that you pull out of the ether quickly. There’s a whole production process and regulatory process where the creative process lives inside of.” The 108-proof Riding With The King was aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels for 32 months and an additional 29 months in King Estate Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre French oak barrels. As the release neared, Joe Heron and Jasin worked closely to develop a label. Lesley Heron was drawn to a plush red velvet chair in photos of a private jet once owned by Elvis Presley, so Jasin commissioned a local artist to reimagine those chairs. Jasin is also in charge of programming the daily Spotify playlist that serenades the barrels in the cellar. Copper & Kings, however, is not motivated by music alone. Environmental protection and sustainability are important


Profile for americancraftspirits

Craft Spirits Magazine October 2019  

A publication of the American Craft Spirits Association, Craft Spirits Magazine explores the art, science and business of distilling.

Craft Spirits Magazine October 2019  

A publication of the American Craft Spirits Association, Craft Spirits Magazine explores the art, science and business of distilling.