Louisville's Copper & Kings American Brandy Co. takes a new-school approach to barrel aging America's oldest spirit.
Visit Copper & Kings American Brandy Company's gleaming facility in Louisville's Butchertown neighborhood, and you'll likely notice the faint rumbling of bass bleeding up from the maturation cellar.
Like a music-obsessed teen rocking out in the basement, there's a constant stream of loud music pumping out from the depths of the distillery.
It's not for the benefit of the employees, however, but for the brandy. Copper & Kings matures its distinctly American-style brandy through a process it calls sonic aging. A continuous stream of music reverberates throughout the cellar from five large, strategically placed subwoofers arranged among the racks of wooden barrels. The thumping beats help the liquid penetrate into the wood and pick up flavor, color and aroma, much like Kentucky's climate helps mature a barrel of bourbon.
"The concept of sonic aging is not a principle of vibration, it's a principle of pulsation," says Copper & Kings founder Joe Heron. "You pulse a bass line into the distillate so that the alcohol molecules move away from the subwoofer until they collide with the wall, and then they have to go somewhere so they come back. It forms a sort of wave inside the barrel, and the theory around it is that there's more frequent contact with the wood, which enhances maturation.
"It also gives us a conversation point," Heron says. "We're in love with music as a company. I mean, Copper & Kings is made to sound like a band, like Kings of Leon or Shovels and Rope or Iron & Wine. Our brandy is aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels and matured with rock and roll, and that's cool."
Our brandy is aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels and matured with rock and roll, and that's cool.
You can follow CopperAndKings on Spotify to check in on what's playing. Select playlists include David Bowie, Henry Rollins, Ice Cube, Jerry Lee Lewis and even one that celebrates International Day of Happiness (March 20, in case you were wondering).
Even Copper & Kings' three pot stills — made by Louisville-based Vendome Copper Works — are in on the act. They're named Isis, Magdalena and Sara after women mentioned on Bob Dylan's "Desire" album.
Brandy is the one of the largest categories of alcoholic beverages that hardly anyone ever talks about. It's made from a fruit-based mash, most often using grapes, which is then distilled. Most, but not all, brandies are barrel aged.
"It's the oldest spirit in America," Heron says. "The first documented recording of brandy was in 1640, 180 years before bourbon."
Kentucky was once a hub of the American brandy industry. In the 1800s, there were more than 400 dedicated brandy distilleries operating in the state, Heron says, and 100 more that made both whiskey and brandy.
Copper & Kings offers several types of brandy, including its high-octane, 124-proof Butchertown Brandy. The distillery also recently released Floodwall, an American apple brandy aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels and finished in sherry casks.
In addition to brandy, Copper & Kings also makes four varieties of absinthe, which is "so much more rock and roll than gin," Heron declares.
Copper & Kings also likes to teams up with craft brewer through its Cr&ftwerk program. Brewers age beer in Copper & Kings' used brandy barrels, while the distillery ages batches of brandy in barrels previously used to barrel-age beers, such as Dark Lord from 3 Floyds and Smoked Imperial Porter from Sierra Nevada.
Copper & Kings even once distilled a batch of Bo & Luke Russian Imperial Stout from Louisville's Against the Grain Brewery & Smokehouse.
"It turned out really great," Heron says of the experiment. "We think the brandy process is much more appropriate for distilling beer than the whiskey process, because you're trying to keep everything in rather than take it out."
"Our intersection with craft beer is as much philosophical as it is physical," he says. "We appreciate the adventurous nature and personality not only of the beers, but also of the people who make them. They're not afraid to take risks, try new things and even fail a little, and neither are we. And, if it doesn't work, there's always another bottle."