A leader in the craft distillery movement, Rick Wasmund is the man and Master Distiller behind Copper Fox Distillery. Rick came up with the name of his distillery while living in Virginia’s fox hunt country, combined with the fact that copper is the most ideal material used to build stills. With a whimsical smile, Rick elaborates on the name while providing additional intrigue. “In oriental mythology, the fox is the animal that was entrusted with communicating from spirits to human beings. And I thought, well, isn’t that what we want to do as a company: communicate from the spirits to the human beings?”
Rick opened for business in 2005 at his first Copper Fox Distillery location in Sperryville, Virginia. After much success, he decided to open a second location this year in Williamsburg.
Rick has some serious “whisky street cred.” In 2000, he honed his whisky-making methods and techniques while apprenticing for Bowmore Distillery in Islay, Scotland. There, Rick learned the value of malting your own barley with Bowmore being one of only a few distilleries in the world at the time to malt their own barley. After that experience and born out of respect for tradition and innovation, Rick now carries the title of being the first American distillery to malt their own barley by hand!
Nearly all distilleries buy malt made to their specifications from commercial maltings; it’s standard practice. So let’s talk about why this is such a unique skillset to do in-house. For those that don’t understand what malting is, under the hard husk of a barley grain there is an embryonic plant with a food store made of insoluble starch. The “plant” will remain dormant until it is exposed to the correct level of warmth and moisture, at which point it starts to germinate. After that, a delicate balance of temperature control and moisture is necessary to create what’s called “green malt.” The green malt is moved to a kiln where it is then heated and dried to stop the germination process without damaging the precious enzymes that will eventually help to carry out the conversion process from starch to fermentable sugar.
Why would a distillery go through all the trouble of malting its own barley, you ask? Simply stated, it affords additional methods of control for crafting high-quality whisky. For added complexity, Rick dries and smokes his malted barley with (hand harvested) cherry and apple wood smoke before mashing; “It’s all about the flavor, we want to be different in a way that enhances the whisky,” says Rick.
After the malting, drying and smoking process, distillation is done in small batches in Rick’s custom-made copper pot still. The distilled spirit is matured in used bourbon barrels, with trap doors cut into the top so hand-selected, toast-charred fruit wood and oak can be submerged in the cask. Though aged only 14-18 months, this exclusive infusion process flavors and matures the whisky so fully and flavorfully that you just have to taste it to believe it. Crafted from barley to bottle in the shadows of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the end result is a rich mellow, flavorful whisky that boasts the depth of a more mature whisky.
Do yourself a favor and stop by one of Rick’s locations (Sperryville or Williamsburg) and taste for yourself!
*Products Currently Available from Copper Fox Distillery*
Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky: Rich amber copper color, intriguing aromas and flavors of suede, olive tapenade, honey, dried fruit chutney and clay with a silky, dry-yet-fruity, medium-full body, and long, spicy, orange marmalade on rye toast and root beer float-like finish. Distinctively flavorful and a great choice for artisan cocktails or sipping.
Process: Copper Fox uses apple and cherrywood smoke to flavor the malted barley. Their single batch copper pot still produces one barrel at a time, and the spirit is non-chill filtered to preserve the complete flavor and essence of the barley grain.
Copper Fox Rye Whisky: Copper color, vibrant aromas of clay, butter roasted chestnuts, pickling spices, and rye grain sacks with a silky, dry-yet-fruity, medium-to-full body and a honeyed rye toast, peppery spice, cola, fig, and mineral laden finish. A spot-on, wonderfully balanced rye whisky for all applications and occasions.
Process: They start with thoroughbred grains from the Northern Neck of Virginia and floor malt the barley in a traditional fashion. Then the malt is flavored using the smoke of selected, smoldering apple and cherrywood. It is then aged with toasted cuts of fruitwood, and bottled by hand.
Vir Gin: Vir Gin offers up a tasting experience that truly defies boundaries. Their spirit is 100%
Single Malt, or in other words, a toast to the thoroughbred barley grain developed by Virginia Tech and grown on the Northern Neck of Virginia. They believe in nurturing the grain until the moment it reaches your glass, which is why they maintain such a strong relationship with their farmer.
Process: Vir Gin is tastefully distilled in pot stills, resulting in a deep and rich flavor profile that allows the malt to shine. It also features the finest natural ingredients available: Mediterranean juniper, citrus, spice, and selected botanicals. Seasonal offerings from the distillery garden uniquely influence each small batch that is produced, one batch at a time.