Hailing from South Africa, Copper & Kings owners Joe and Lesley Heron have lived in the U.S. since 2001 where their entrepreneurial spirit has demonstrated itself time and again.
Prior to Copper & Kings, they started Crispin Cider, which sold to Miller Coors in 2012 and before that, they created Nutrisoda in 2003, selling that company to Pepsi Americas. Clearly, start-up businesses are nothing new to the Herons and it shows in their conceptualization of Copper & Kings, whose goal is to make an American brandy in an American style. Heron talked to Chilled about the business, its design, and its future.
Why make brandy in Bourbon Country?
Our aspiration is to make a definitive American brandy, not a derivative of a French style brandy. Anchoring ourselves in the cultural heartland of American distilling feels natural in that context, it also gives us access to the inherent skills available in the state – Vendome pot-stills (our neighbors), engineering, cooperages and with 76% of all brandy in America consumed central time zone east, its a very good place to be logistically.
Could you describe your brandy stylistically?
We make a feisty, rambunctious brandy more akin to a Bourbon than, say a, Cognac. It’s intense, it’s unadulterated – no added boisé (a combination of sugar, oak chips, and lower-proof brandy), sugar, or caramel color – and matured in Kentucky bourbon barrels with a maturation approach that mirrors Bourbon, not Cognac – no dilution to top up the “angel’s share” during maturation.
What have been some of you more successful experiments in aging?
We have some very exciting apple brandy-based gins aging in various barrels including refurbed Cognac and sherry casks. We have a spectacular absinthe that is almost ready for release in the new year that’s been maturing in Serbian juniper barrels. We’ve been beefing up our Cr&ftwerk partnerships with some new very exciting craft breweries. We liked the 3 Marlenas apple brandy aged in tequila barrels so much that we are extending that program. I’m pretty excited about the sherry wood fired new American oak casks that we developed with Kelvin Cooperage. One of the most intriguing directions we are exploring is using brandy distillation technique to distill finished craft beers to maintain and retain all the nuance and character inherent in the beer and beer style.
What’s up next?
We are expanding our distribution footprint across the usa, we’ve just added another 10 states including all of California, Michigan, Virginia, North Carolina amongst others.
You have made a name for yourself by doing sonic aging on your brandies. Can you explain how this works?
The principle revolves around pulsation. You pulse a bass line in to the spirit, the alcohol is relatively light, less dense, so moves away from the sound wave until it hits the barrel wall, then bounces back, and as the process repeats it creates a double wave from each side that in principle causes more frequent contact between the barrel walls and the maturing distillate. We believe that this can help maturation. And happy brandy makes for happy drinking.
How big is the distillery in terms of size, output, etc?
The distillery is 30,000 square feet, with an additional 20,000 square feet of courtyard and outdoor space including the public amenities like the gift shop. We have 1,800 gallons of distilling capacity within 3 separate copper pot-stills – Isis (1000 gallons), Magdalena (750 gallons) and Sarah (50 gallons) – all named after women featured in Bob Dylan songs off the album desire. This, coupled with our bottling line and team, would allow for production in excess of 150,000 x 4.5 liter cases per annum.
So many spirits companies are active in the community and in charity. What about you?
We are focused on 2 areas – environmental sustainability – all alcohol is agricultural and its important that we not only build awareness but engage actively – we support bike riders (who get a half price tour), we use re-purposed shipping containers for our gift shop, waiting areas, public toilets, etc.
We installed solar panels and we have a 4,300 square feet Monarch butterfly way station that also serves to mitigate storm water run off. The second area is that copper & kings is focused first and foremost on being a community asset versus a tourist attraction. We are particularly engaged in supporting our Butchertown neighborhood in many ways, and the Louisville community at large – supporting the arts, education, and other similar causes. We do a lot around town, it has always been a central philosophy.
For more information on Copper & Kings American Brandy, visit CopperAndKings.com.