Copper Fox Distillery: Meet Virginia Makers

Author: Rick Wasmund, Master Distiller and Owner for Copper Fox Distillery

History

The story of Copper Fox Distillery begins with how much I love the smell of burning wood!

As a kid, I was in charge of collecting firewood and building the campfires on family camping trips. Later, when building fires for warmth and cooking, I became more aware of the aromatic properties of different woods and the different flavors of wood smoke when used for grilling.

When I was a little older, I discovered whisky tasting events with my dad, and fell in love with Scotch whisky; especially the peaty kind, partly because of the smell of the smoked peat and as well as the rich fruitiness of the malted barley. Always a curious pain in the ass (according to my lovely sisters), I wondered how might whisky taste if the barley was flavored with fruitwood smoke instead of peat? I began to search for a flavor that I soon discovered did not exist.

I became obsessed with the idea and my search eventually led me to Scotland and an offer to intern at Bowmore Distillery, where I bunked in a barn and learned the traditional art of floor malting barley. It was then that I had the revelation that I could make a great American single malt whisky! I was encouraged to “Just go do it, lad!” and the birth of Copper Fox Distillery is the result of that idea.   

Upon my return from Scotland, I began the search for a location and invited family and friends to invest and be a part of my dream. Our first location in Sperryville at 9 River Lane, sits on the banks of the Thornton River in the spectacular foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Our Sperryville location is a converted cider mill which was constructed by the Rappahannock Co-operative Fruit Growers in 1936. During the mid to late 1930s, apple juice and apple products were produced and sold under the brand names Skyline Drive and Red Creek. By the late 1970s, however, the demand for local apples diminished and the facility was sold. I purchased the building on January 1, 2005, and ironically, the distillery building remains a “juice plant,” with a continuing emphasis on local apples!

We started out as a small family operation with just me, my mom Helen, (the distillery “M.O.M”- Manager of Malt) and my partner Sean, managing all aspects of production and sales for the first seven years. We recently acquired an adjacent building at 4 River Lane, and the remaining buildings in the quaint Sperryville Rivers Arts complex are now home to a variety of thriving businesses.

In early 2013, we began taking our hand-crafted malts out to North American craft brewers. The exceptional Applewood & Cherrywood Smoked Malt–our signature smoked malt, the soul of Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky and Copper Fox Rye Whisky–have been used in a broad range of beer styles. New to the smoked array is a Peachwood Smoked Malt and Sassy Rye“– a sassafras-smoked rye malt. Our richly flavorful Virginia Special Pale combines a robust sweetness with toasty character, gaining brewers’ appreciation for its backbone, elegant flavor, and excellent extract, as well as for the opportunity to brew with a very high percentage of locally-sourced quality craft malt.

Some of our local brewery partners include: O’Connor (Norfolk), Hardywood Park (Richmond), Virginia Beer Company (Williamsburg), Oozlefinch (Hampton/Fort Monroe), Steam Bell (Midlothian), Reaver Beach (Virginia Beach), Back Bay (Virginia Beach), BenchTop (Norfolk), Pen Druid (Sperryville), Lost Rhino (Ashburn), and Brass Cannon (Williamsburg).

With a growing need for additional malting, distilling and storage capacity, we purchased the former Lord Paget Motor Inn complex from the City of Williamsburg in March 2015. Located at 901 Capitol Landing Road on the edge of Colonial Williamsburg, our newest venture sprawls across an historic six-acre plot and includes nine buildings, a built-in swimming pool and a freshwater pond.

The Lord Paget was built in 1952 and was family owned and operated until 2007. In its heyday, it was described as a “modern yet traditional” family friendly motor lodge located in a quiet park-like setting less than one mile from the Colonial Williamsburg Visitor Center.

Since acquiring the property in 2015, we have renovated and converted six of the nine buildings for distillery operations and we opened to the public for distillery tours, tastings, events and retail sales in July 2016. Renovation to the remaining three buildings is in progress.

Distillery Production

At Copper Fox, our commitment to consistency and quality starts with our locally sourced grains and partnerships with local farmers. The Thoroughbred six-row barley we use for Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky, Copper Fox Rye Whisky and Vir Gin, and the Endeavor two-row barley preferred by breweries were developed at Virginia Tech. All the grains we use are grown on the fertile fields of Virginia’s Northern Neck.

We malt, distill, age and bottle all of our products at our distilleries in Sperryville and Williamsburg and we were the first distillery in North America to build a malt floor and kiln post-Prohibition. We floor malt all of our barley in the traditional style, which allows us to develop and maintain a connection to the grain throughout the entire production process.

Our innovation begins in the kiln, where we use local cherrywood, applewood or peachwood to gently smoke and dry the grain. The spirit is distilled in copper pot stills, which results in a deep and rich flavor profile that allows the malt to shine. 

The spirit is then matured in barrels with toasted fruitwood further enhancing the flavor of the smoky malt. This signature aging process continues to set us apart from others.

Tours/Tastings/Events/Location & Hours

Tours, tastings and the purchase of Copper Fox products are offered at both of our locations, and we invite you to visit and experience our “flavor journey.” Located in a recently named Best Small Towns list by Thrillist, our Sperryville distillery tour is sure to delight. Just seven miles from the Thornton River Gap entrance to Shenandoah National Park, it is the perfect place to start or end your visit. Join us for an informative and entertaining tour, tasting and refreshing seasonal cocktails on our outdoor Riverside Cocktail Garden deck.

For those traveling to the historic Virginia Triangle, our Williamsburg distillery is less than two miles from exit 238 off I-64 and is just minutes from Colonial Williamsburg. The transformation from a 65-year-old hotel complex to a distillery and malt house is nothing less than inspiring. Enjoy a tasting and seasonal cocktail in our tasting room, or on the patio by the bathtub fire pit as the weather turns cooler. Whether or not you are a connoisseur of whisky, we hope to educate, entertain and inspire you!

Sperryville: 9 River Lane, 540.987.8554

Monday-Thursday 10am-6pm

Friday and Saturday 10am-8pm, Sunday 1-7pm

Williamsburg: 901 Capitol Landing Road, 757.903.2076


Monday, Wednesday-Saturday 10am-6pm, Sunday 1-6pm
Closed Tuesdays

Tasting Notes:

Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky
BTI Gold Medal 92 and 94.5 points Jim Murray’s 2015 Whisky Bible
100% hand malted, Virginia barley, dried with hand cut applewood and cherrywood smoke. A great choice for artisan cocktails or sipping.

Copper Fox Rye Whisky
BTI Gold Medal 94 and 91 points Jim Murray’s 2015 Whisky Bible
Made with thoroughbred grains from the Northern Neck of Virginia, hand-malted and kiln-dried with applewood and cherrywood smoke. Double pot-distilled at a low 150 to 160 proof to enhance the fruitiness. Soft and round; a great crossover for Bourbon drinkers

Vir Gin
Tastefully distilled in pot stills, resulting in a deep and rich flavor profile that allows the malt to shine. We then use the finest natural ingredients available: Mediterranean juniper, citrus, spice, and selected botanicals; seasonal offerings from the distillery garden uniquely influence each small batch that we produce, one batch at a time.

Wasmund’s Single Malt Spirit, Wasmund’s Rye Spirit, Wasmund’s Bourbon Mash and Wasmund’s Barrel Kits
Best New Product Award 2010 VDACS-Barrel Kits
Our unaged spirits are hand-crafted and carefully distilled at just under 160 proof, utilizing a process which allows the complete essence and flavor of the grains to come through. The Distiller’s “Art” involves balancing the alcohol purity and the flavor elements from the source material—in our case—grain. Enjoy these spirits as a foundation for creative cocktails or replicate the aging process at home in our lightly charred new American white oak barrels. The cask strength (124 proof) spirit is the best strength to optimize the reaction of spirit and wood.