In the recently published book The Seven Moods of Craft Spirits: 350 Great Craft Spirits From Around the World, author Dominic Roskrow headlined the Copper & Kings entry, “Creative Brilliance,” with the first sentence, “Is this the world’s coolest distillery?”
It just might be. Music is the pulse of Copper & Kings in Louisville, Kentucky (literally and figuratively). It permeates the distillery’s identity in almost every way—from the show poster-inspired bottle labels to its copper pot stills, each named for a woman in a Bob Dylan song.
When visitors walk into the distillery basement cellar, a daily playlist blasts from a row of subwoofers, pulsing the distillery’s aging brandy against the barrel’s interior, increasing its contact with the oak. Copper & Kings Founder Joe Heron calls this method “sonic-aging.”
In a way, that process is a good analogy for the brand itself: unorthodox, innovative, underpinned by method, and very loud. You need those traits if you’re going to succeed as a brandy distillery located in Kentucky’s Bourbon Country.
According to Heron, when most people think of brandy, two main categories come to mind: the Californian “cheap and sweet,” and the traditional European brandies. He didn’t want to be encumbered by either preconception, especially as he felt innovation in the American brandy segment was at a standstill.
“We make American Brandy with a capital A and a capital B, and four years ago, there was no such thing as American Brandy. No definable personality, no innovation, and no momentum,” says Heron. “We wanted to juxtapose ourselves versus very traditional Cognac by using the heart of American distilling as our geographic anchor. That gave us the ability to be ourselves, to be anything that we wanted to be, and to paint with a very extensive creative palette. This is America—we are not limited to a small, provincial geographic dogma. We have the whole continent to work with, any grape varietals or fruit that we find interesting, and barrel finishes to push the boundaries of unexpected flavor profiles.”
Innovation and invention sits at the heart of Copper & Kings. “In many ways, it’s as much a personality disorder as a business strategy,” jokes Heron. “It’s our personal oxygen, our corporate voice, and a substantive reason why American Brandy is cool and exciting right now. American Brandy boogies.
“We’re like a band. Our band puts out a lot of records. We don’t expect you to like every song, but we’d really like you to love the music, and to hopefully appreciate most of the songs on every album.
“We execute conceptual innovation. We are less interested in literal product descriptions than in adventurous, creative journeys for drinkers to explore and stories to enjoy in their glass.”
It’s also enabled the distillery to explore innovative collaborations that reach consumers who may not traditionally consider themselves brandy drinkers. Most recently, Copper & Kings partnered with famous Chicago distillery FEW Spirits to release Copper & Kings via Chicago American Brandy—pure copper pot-distilled American brandy matured in FEW’s rye whiskey barrels.
Or GEOGRA&PHY, which Copper & Kings describes as “adventures and explorations of pot-distilled brandy from around the world.” The bicontinental brandy is an equal blend of American and South African pot-distilled brandies.
There’s also CR&FTWERK, the distillery’s ongoing collaboration project with renowned craft beer breweries across the United States. “I have a lot of respect and affection for their ‘balls-to-the-wall’ invention and creative expression, because really what you see in a Copper & Kings bottle is creative expression distilled,” Heron says. “And partnering with breweries like 3 Floyds, Against The Grain, Sierra Nevada, Sun King, and The Bruery, to name a few, is just a thrill. I’m a little starstruck, in truth.” The resulting collaborations culminated with a series of small-batch American Brandy, aged for 12 months in oak barrels previously used to age eclectic American craft beer.
Jagger and Richards, Lennon and McCartney, Heron and O’Daniel (as in Brandon O’Daniel, Copper & Kings’ master distiller)… these are just a few of the world’s most rockin’ collaborators. “Although the reality is that I’m pretty much just Brandon’s roadie,” laughs Heron.
The brand, Heron says, will keep creating, innovating, and exploring new concepts.
But at the end of the day, Copper & Kings still has a tremendous amount of focus on its first national hit (no pun intended): its original brandy, which smacks of blackberry, bourbon, and jaw-dropping Americana. It’s high-proof, but surprisingly sippable—like stone fruit that’s been amplified via surround sound.
As Heron says, “This is not ordinary, everyday brandy. This is a bad-ass brandy. It goes to 11.”