A few days ago, we visited Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville, Virginia — which is in Northern Virginia, near Front Royal. It was about a 2 hour drive from our house (although we did stop briefly at the Dinosaurland gift shop — we’ll definitely be making another trip to visit the whole park).
Copper Fox makes whisky, rye, and distiller’s spirit. We took a tour of the whole operation — it was awesome.
Copper Fox was founded by Rick Wasmund and his wife. Rick moved to Ireland and apprenticed with a scotch maker. He founded Copper Fox in 2005. It’s a family operation — Rick’s mom is the Master of Malt (get it? MOM), his brother (who lead our tour) moved to Virginia from Florida to work in the distillery, and his sister helps with marketing. The Master of Spirits is a family friend. They occupy a small warehouse (about 80,000 square feet), nestled in amongst several dairies, farmhouses and an antique store. At the end of our tour, we were wandering around the warehouse a bit, and Rick greeted us personally. We chatted with him about whether he gets a vacation (sometimes), where we are from, and how excited we were to try his whisky. He assured us it’s the very best there is.
The tour is cool. It starts with a description of the Thoroughbred Barley. It was developed at Virginia Tech and is grown in the Northern Neck, making Copper Fox a 100% Virginia product. See the tall battle on the right in this photo? That’s how much barley goes into one bottle of Copper Fox whisky.
Next we saw the malt room, where one batch of barley was malting and another was soaking, and then the kiln. The kiln was cool — it’s a room with a perforated steel ceiling. The malted barley goes on top of the ceiling, and a fire is started on a woodstove in the room. In Ireland, the barley for scotch is smoked with peat, but here it’s smoked with apple and cherry fruit wood. For me this was the most interesting part of the tour.
Woodstove in the Kiln
The tour includes all the rest of the process — cooking the mash, fermenting, distilling, aging and bottling. It’s all done on site by 3 people, plus MOM. We weren’t allowed to take photos in the barrel room, but it was shockingly small. When Rick opened Copper Fox in 2005, he introduced a lot of innovative techniques to age the whisky “faster,” such as adding wood chips to the barrels to increase the types and surface area of the wood that is in contact with the whisky and artificially heating the barrels to increase the hot/cold/hot/etc. cycles. The whisky ages for only 4 months (compared to 3 or more years for scotch). Each bottle is labeled with a batch number. The number goes all the way back to the malting stage. All the barley that is malted together stays together throughout the whole process — all the way to the bottle. To be called a “single malt”, a bottle may only contain whisky from a single distillery. Copper Fox takes that a bit farther.
Copper Fox Still
There’s a small store on-site, where you can smell — but not taste — their products. They sell hats, t-shirts, flasks, barrel kits, and of course booze. We bought a bottle of rye, a bottle of single malt whisky, and a 2 liter barrel kit.
What does the whisky taste like? I’m not good at describing flavors, so I’ll just say that Wasmund’s Single Malt is finished, with nice flavor and a short bite. It’s not very deep or complex, but it’s nice. Copper Fox Rye is really good, with a more complicated flavor and a gorgeous color.
What’s a barrel kit? It’s a small oak barrel, charred on the inside, that you can use to age your own liquor at home. Our kit came with a 2 liter barrel and two 750 ml bottles of single malt spirit, which is clear, unaged “whisky” which has never seen oak. You put the spirit in the barrel and finish your own whisky. I’ll be writing more about that later.
Overall, this was a great trip. The tour was great, the people were nice, the weather was awesome, and the whisky was good. I’m already looking forward to our next visit.