My wife and I take a trip down the Bourbon Trail about once a year, visiting a distillery or two. Our first stop this year was at Copper & Kings, a Louisville Kentucky outfit that I don’t think is technically part of the Bourbon Trail, since they don’t actually make bourbon, or whiskey of any kind! Copper & Kings is primarily a brandy maker, though they also make brandy from apples, as well as a variety of absinthes. Oh, and the very occasional tiny batch of gin.
Located in the Butchertown section of Louisville, C&K is located opposite a working slaughterhouse, a fact which announced itself to our noses rather dramatically after a brief rain. No distilling was going on, as this is August in Kentucky, but I can only imagine the war of aromas on a hot May morning….
Aside from the high quality of their basic brandy, I knew literally nothing about Copper & Kings before arriving at the facility. One look at the striking and beautiful facility placed the company in my mental category of “highly capitalized 21st century startups”. This is a category that produces some of the best, as well as some of the most over-rated and over-priced, products I’ve explored since discovering that I’m a cocktail geek. I was eager to find out where C&K would settle across its product line.
The distillery is worth at least a brief trip, even if you have zero interest in booze, but just like architecture. The main facility is an ancient brick warehouse, with a modern steel addition to the side. The entrance to the grounds is formed by a very neat building formed by three former shipping containers. The container to your right as you come in is a shop where you can sign up for tours, buy product, and do a little tasting if you haven’t time for a full tour. The one to your left is a waiting area where you can relax in air conditioned comfort while you wait for your tour. A third container bridges the gap overhead between the two and seems to contain the HVAC for the two containers. I love the use of cargo containers as human habitations. As recycling goes, it is about as efficient an example as you can find. (The idea can be take way too far, of course.) The installation here is one of the more creatively laid out and designed examples that I’ve ever seen.
Once you pass through the entrance, there is a huge patio/party space in front of the main building, with a huge moat to keep
morons visitors from just walking up to the big copper stills and burning themselves.
The patio, with it’s well-equipped bar, firepits, and modern seating, is surrounded by lush wildflower beds, designed to attract butterflies and otherwise provide a little natural habitat in this industrial area of town.
The three glorious copper stills sit in a line at the front of the main floor, small, medium, and large. Behind them is the bottling line, and cage for finished product where they hope to place a fourth still one day. The smallest, Sarah, is so small it it raised up a few stairs. They use it for running experimental batches at an affordable scale, as well as making their intermittently-produced, micro-batch gin. The medium still is used to produce Absinthe, and the largest, Magdalena, is used exclusively for producing their core product line of aged grape wine brandies. All three stills are Kentucky made by Vendome Copper & Brass Works. The bottling line significantly automated and high-speed enough to attest to the reasonably high capacity of the distillery.
But what is more interesting is the fact that loud music blares twenty-four hours a day down there. This is actually a part of their aging process. The heavy vibrations act on all the barrels to increase contact with the wood and deepen flavor. Is this trick for real? Heck if I know. They aren’t the only distiller using this method, but it isn’t widespread. Regardless, it is kind of fun, and if you want to listen to the same music your future brandy is rocking out to, just drop by the front page of the website and check out today’s Spotify list. Don’t listen as loud as the barrels do. It’ll hurt your ears.
Besides the patio outside, there are several other spaces in the distillery designated for entertainment space. Directly over the stills is a large room (lavishly decorated in the distillery’s signature orange) that is used for large tours, seminars, and wedding receptions. You know it is directly over the stills, since the absinthe aromatic basket is located here, and uses steam from the still right beneath it.
The products are, for the most part, very, very good. The brandies are delicious, and completely distinct from the stickily sweet American brandy you may imagine. But they remain distinctly not cognac. The absinthes are interesting. I particularly liked the ginger infusion. The young spirits are… young spirits. The white brandy is Pisco-like. And the white apple brandy… needs time in the basement with the Beastie Boys.
When visiting Louisville, I heartily recommend a visit to Copper & Kings. It is a visual treat (and olfactory adventure). The products are tasty, interesting and unique. The tour is well-scripted, and the staff is friendly. You can reserve tickets here.