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“Death: “THERE ARE BETTER THINGS IN THE WORLD THAN ALCOHOL, ALBERT.”
Albert: “Oh, yes, sir. But alcohol sort of compensates for not getting them.” – Terry Pratchett, The Hogfather
Nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in Western Virginia, is a little hamlet called Sperryville. And in that village lies the Copper Fox Distillery. Owned and operated by one Rick Wasmund and his family (which has almost certainly grown since we saw him last), Copper Fox has the distinction of being the first distillery in the world to produce Applewood aged whisky.* Ben and I had the pleasure of visiting when we lived in Virginia, and regard Wasmund’s as some of the finest spirits we’ve ever tasted. But it’s been years since we were able to get any, so we haven’t done an article on it yet. You may recall from the O’Begley article that Ben compared their Poitín to the rye spirit from Copper Fox.
Thanks to the fact that Whitehouse Liquor & Wine carries a selection of Copper Fox products, we can now do a feature on Wasmund’s Rye Spirit. The notes are a combined effort between Ben and myself; the photos are all Ben.
Strong alcohol, redolent of rye; you don’t get quite the same spiciness from barley alone.
This is a perfectly clear spirit, with beautiful legs that look as though they mean to cling high on the sides of the tasting glass forever.
Taking it neat
The first notes are sweet; it’s that illusive sweet alcohol note you get in a fine sipping rum (if you aren’t familiar with any fine sipping rums, I suggest you correct this deficiency without delay). And there’s smoke; unmistakable smoke. It tastes like the Cherrywood, with a little bit of the Applewood to back it up. And then there’s a full, rye spice that comes in at the back of your palate. It makes the tongue tingle a little bit; you don’t want to just send it completely straight to the back of your throat, like I did. This is not whisky; it’s a barrel strength (in this case, 62% ABV), unaged spirit composed of two-thirds rye and one-third hand malted barley. They do the malting right at Copper Fox; Rick Wasmund served an internship “at Bowmore Distillery, on Islay,” where they still “malt their own barley.”* On the wall at Copper Fox Distillery—which, by the way, is in a barn—you can see pictures of the people who grow the grain.
For me, there’s a flavor that could be described as green, from the unmalted rye. I get that in the middle. Ben catches it in the finish; some fennel and juniper notes. More toward the finish, I pick up the strong rye spiciness. Ben gets a hint of sweet, alfalfa-like flavor from the unmalted rye; similar to the “grassy” character we noted in O’Begley’s Pioneer Green Malt. He also gets a bit of white pepper.
On the second sip, I taste something like a tiny hint of anise, again, reminding me of O’Begley’s Pioneer Green Malt (I swear, this is not a plug for either distillery, except that they both turn out excellent products, and I appreciate the huge amount of personality and art that they put into their work).
On a distinctly not classy note, because this one-of-a-kind, craft distilled, completely independent, can’t-find-it-anywhere-else rye spirit is only $20, and comes in a plastic screw-top bottle, we’re mixing it with Coca-Cola. And with the Coke, it brings out a unique cinnamon note; there’s some more of that fennel in the nose, and that hint of white pepper, also noted above. It also exposes a brown sugar flavor that’s not normally present in Coke. You can still taste the smokiness from the rye spirit. There’s brown sugar and fern in the finish, and something I had trouble identifying at first, but is a sort of funky wood flavor. Interesting, that, since this baby has not seen the inside of a barrel. Any woody notes must come from the smoked barley malt.
The rye spirit dries out the Coke, and lends it a complex flavor profile that elevates it from just some frickin’ thing to order at a bar, to a sophisticated-tasting elixir. Bear in mind that you would not use as much of this barrel-strength spirit in a fizz as you would a bottle-strength alcohol.
To reference the Depraved Artist post on it, there are notes in the smell of the rye spirit, reminiscent of some of the extremely expensive and fine scents from Taylor of Old Bond Street; mostly in the areas of sage, fennel, and fern.
At Copper Fox, they floor malt their grains, dry it in a wood-fired oven, and turn it by hand. They offer free tours every day of the week (reduced hours on Sunday), and if you want a tasting at the end of your tour—which I highly recommend—it’s $7/person.† At the time when we visited the distillery, this blog did not exist; we just stopped in for fun. Rick and his wife were quite friendly and personable, and the tour they gave us was excellent. Oh, one more thing. They sell barrel kits; two-liter charred white oak barrel, and two bottles of 124 proof spirit; either Single Malt, or Rye.‡ We used to have three of these, but I let one get funky, so now we have two. Aging spirit yourself is fun; I think I’ll get back into it soon.
Photos by Benjamin Wilson
‡”Our Product.” Copper Fox. Accessed September 25, 2015.
*”Our Story.” Copper Fox. Accessed September 25, 2015.
†”Visit.” Copper Fox. Accessed September 25, 2015.