Joe Heron

Lagniappe – Copper & Kings CR&FTWERK

The secret about Copper & Kings is starting to leak:  Owner Joe Heron is putting out some delicious brandy.  However, Heron is not content just resting on his laurels.  He’s always looking to the future, and the next phase is what Copper & Kings is calling their CR&FTWERK series.

Heron is taking matured American brandy and aging it for an additional 12 months in American craft beer barrels.  To go a little deeper, brandy enters the finishing barrels at 130 proof.  After the finishing process is complete, the brandy is proofed down to 55.5% abv, or 111 proof, for bottling.  As always, Heron does not chill filter and his brandy contains no flavors or coloring.

Due out in March of 2016, the first four expressions use barrels from 3 Floyds Dark Lord, Sierra Nevada Smoked Imperial Porter, Oskar Blues G’Knight & Deviant Dale’s, and Against the Grain Mae Fanny Baw.  I’m told this is a continuing series, as Heron is already working with additional breweries.

I asked Joe about his process for choosing the finishing barrels.  He had the following to say:

They need to be fresh and “juicy”.  We want to work with the finest brewers, and represent them well.  We look at different beer styles.  Porters and stouts are obviously good for aging brandy, but we are excited by Scottish ales, IPA’s, and barley wine and lager wine barrels that we plan on using.  We want some diversity in beer styles.  It is a partnership so we want the beers aged in our barrels to be amazing.

Let’s get to the tasting.  It was suggested I try these neat, then again with ice or water.

3 Floyds Dark Lord Finish

Right off the bat, the beer barrel finishing is evident.  Those fruity and caramel brandy flavors are there, but are complimented by a malty note.  A small bitter herbal note is also present.  The high proof pack this brandy with a wallop of flavor, and give it a slightly chewy character.  I get a dark roast coffee and molasses, along with stewed fruit and spice.  That malty note from the nose is here as well.  The long finish is bittersweet  and is where the beer notes really shine.  A splash of water bring the beer character up front, while the brandy notes play second fiddle.

Sierra Nevada Smoked Imperial Porter Finish

The nose for this expression is mainly brandy.  The beer barrel finish here is a tad more subdued, adding spice, herbs, and a touch of orange peel.  That’s where the subtlety ends.  The palate is hops & malt, caramel and fruit.  It’s not as malty as the 3 Floyds Dark Lord-finished expression.  A slightly burnt sugar note carries over to the crisp finish.  Some water brings out the hops on the nose, and bring forward the caramel and hops on the palate.  It also unveils a slight smokiness.

Oskar Blues G’Knight & Deviant Dale’s Finish

What’s nice about this specific expression is the fruity nature of the brandy is left largely intact.  The barrel finish kicks up a fresh, citrus note and some hoppy notes.  Copper & Kings’ official tasting notes are largely spot on:  “Clean, crisp, hints of black pepper.”  It almost comes across as a bit of citrus immediately followed by a slightly dry and spicy note.  Where sometimes brandy can be a bit “heavy,” it’s quite the opposite with this expression.  An ice cube brings about a slight caramel on the nose and palate, and up the hops.  Very fresh.  This would make a great summertime porch dram.

Against The Grain Mac Fanny Baw Finish

This expression smells like a rich whiskey – caramel, vanilla, fruit and a touch of oak char.  I even get some brininess.  If you gave this to me blind, I’d say this is a barrel-finished Island scotch whisky.  Taste-wise, there are no surprises on the palate – vanilla, toffee, brine, fruit and a faint touch of smoke.  Think Talisker with the smoke dialed way down and the fruit notes turned up.  The finish is spicy, long and sweet.  Add ice and the sweet notes become more prominent.

Joe Heron and his team at Copper & Kings have hit another home run with these upcoming releases.  Although the flavors presented here might not appeal to everyone, I think these brandies are interesting enough to create some new hardcore fans for the brand.  I applaud Heron’s decision to experiment with barrel-finishing his brandy, and can’t wait to taste what Copper & Kings releases next.

(Note: Review samples were provided by Copper & Kings.)

Lagniappe – A Selection of Copper & Kings Brandy

Photo courtesy of Copper & Kings.

Photo courtesy of Copper & Kings.

Joe Heron is on a mission from the brandy gods.  He’ll preach the ever-sweet word of brandy to whoever will listen.  Not just any brandy – American brandy.   His church is the newly opened Copper & Kings distillery in Louisville, Kentucky.

Though Copper & Kings produces gin and an array of absinthe, the company’s main focus is brandy.  Currently available is their 90 proof American brandy and 124 proof Butchertown Brandy, both made from grape wine.  An Apple brandy is another offering.  Heron began sourcing aged brandy from different American producers before the business fully kicked off in order to have some beginning stock to blend and sell.

All of the brandy from Copper & Kings is non-chill filtered.  Additionally, none of his brandy has added flavoring, color or any other additives.  It’s all natural.  Heron and his staff have sourced brandy that is distilled 100% in pot stills.  For the most part, maturation is achieved through a combination of ex-bourbon barrels, new American oak barrels and, in the case of their apple brandy, ex-sherry casks.  There are other types of casks Heron experiments with, but no brandy aged in those casks have been released.

Photo courtesy of Copper & Kings.

Photo courtesy of Copper & Kings.

I reached out to Joe Heron to learn a little about Copper & Kings and expand my brandy knowledge a bit.  He sent over some brandy samples and was kind enough to answer a few questions.  Below is my short interview with Joe, followed by my tasting notes for all three Copper & Kings brandy expressions.

The brandies you currently have on the market – American Brandy, Butchertown, and American Apple Brandy – are they sourced brandies?

Everything we sell now is blended from sourced brandy.  The youngest aged (brandy) in the bottle now is about 5 years old.  The oldest is approaching 15 years old.  Most (of the blend) is 8 or 9 years old now.  We call this our “DNA base”.  We sourced pure potstill brandy and stored it in bourbon barrels in Kentucky before opening the distillery and our cellar.  When we finished off the maturation cellar, we blended all the brandy into our DNA base.

Talk a little about your process.

Photo courtesy of Copper & Kings.

Photo courtesy of Copper & Kings.

As a small distillery, we are essentially still in a “make-to-order” production process, and blend selected barrels pre-bottling.  As we do not chill-filter, it takes 3-4 weeks to proof down pre-bottling to avoid saponification.  So we blend, then proof, then bottle.  We do not adulterate with boisé, sugar or caramel coloring post-distillation.  We do not dilute with water in the barrel during maturation.

Brandy does not respond to accelerated aging techniques more common at, say, craft whiskey distilleries, such as high heat, small barrel, heavy char or all of the above.  Good brandy needs time.  You stroke brandy into shape.  You don’t muscle it.  Hence our DNA sourcing strategy.  It’s all about exceptional juice in the bottle.  Every time.

When we first started sourcing potstill brandy, it was quite plentiful, particularly grape brandy, but far less so for apple brandy.  We have been unable to source aged pot-distilled brandy for about a year.  Everyone wants to keep it now.  This may give us a significant challenge if we are fortunate enough to take off.  So, if you hear of anyone with pot-still brandy aged for over 3 years for sale let me know!

To follow up on the DNA base going forward, every year we take the bulk of the barrels down and re-blend old into new.  A solera variation.  This requires enormous effort and math (“talking to you’s like long-division” – Old 97’s).  We are up to DNA 5, with an ever decreasing percentage of our original DNA 1 as we go forward.  We have about 5 years to go doing this.  Bloody Fuck.

I understand you and your staff spend part of the year sourcing wine on the west coast, and part of the year actually distilling brandy.  Is distilling brandy more of a seasonal thing, or are you producing it year-round?

Brandy is inherently seasonal as you are dependent on fruit.  We do not distill year round.  We distill about 9 months a year, stopping in the summer when it’s too hot and the wine has been distilled pre-season.  Apple brandy is easier to distill longer throughout the year.  Apples stand up well in cold storage, while grapes obviously don’t.  We source grape wine in California and apple wine in Michigan.  Here’s something to bear in mind:  it takes five tons of grapes to make one barrel of brandy. Fuck.  Brandy has a very challenging supply chain that’s way harder than grain-based spirits.

How’s your distribution?

We are (currently) in 22 states.  We may add a few states this year, but we are more focused on filling in the gaps on the eastern seaboard, and really working our existing markets very hard with our wholesaler partners, as partners.

Finally, and most importantly:  Beatles or Stones?

Ahh – super tough call, but… the Stones baby!  Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street – what a triumvirate of records amongst a pretty legendary pantheon of albums. Although.. anyone who doesn’t like the Beatles is full of shit.  Great band.  Legendary.  And this is obvious, really.

But if I hear a Copper & Kings sound in my head at the moment – North Mississippi All Stars – because American Brandy boogies – yessir, gets down and boogies.

American Brandy

Bottled at 45% abv, Copper & King’s American Brandy is aged in ex-Kentucky bourbon barrels and American White Oak barrels.  According to the label, the new American oak barrels have a medium-char.  The nose is expectedly fruity – think adding brown sugar, a little wine, and raisins to a small pot of stewed fruit.  The bourbon barrel maturation shows its influence with a touch of vanilla.  It sort of smells like a signature dessert at a 5-star restaurant.  On entry, this brandy has a little bite.  A fruity wine note blends with some creamy caramel, cinnamon sticks, and some vanilla.  The finish is medium-long, and carries a mulled wine note.  The higher-than-normal proof gives the spirit a bit of character, but the true star is the exceptional blend Joe put together.  Make no mistake, this is one nice brandy.


Butchertown Reserve Casks Brandy

Photo courtesy of Copper & Kings.

Photo courtesy of Copper & Kings.

Named after the neighborhood where the distillery set up shop, Butchertown is a bruiser of a brandy.  It’s bottled at 124 proof (62% abv).  The Copper & Kings website states that 75% of this brandy is aged in ex-bourbon barrels, while the remaining 25% is aged in new American oak barrels.  Talk about a robust nose!  I get strong notes of spicy white wine, burnt caramel, and vanilla.  In the background is a bit of oak and a lovely perfume note.  Surprisingly there are no expected alcohol vapors.  The entry here is softer than expected at first, with the high proof slowly revealing itself, tingling your tongue in the process.  I’m smacked with a blast of stewed red fruit and brown sugar.  Some old oak dries things up just a little.  Small waves of butterscotch and vanilla carry over into the long finish, where a fresh, sweet berry note appears.  What we have here is an unexpectedly mellow (for it’s high proof) brandy that’s full of flavor.  I honestly haven’t had a brandy like it.  Lovers of barrel strength bourbon might find a new friend in Butchertown.  Highly recommended.



Apple Brandy

Copper & Kings’ apple brandy comes in at a hearty 100 proof (50% abv).  It’s aged in a combination of ex-bourbon casks and ex-sherry casks.  I don’t really have experience with apple brandy.  Let’s jump right in.  On the nose, crisp and tart green apple dominate.  A touch of toffee and lemon zest round out the nose.  The entry starts with a baked Granny Smith apple and oak combination, with bigger cinnamon sticks and vanilla notes emerging moments later.  A hint of dried fruit show up in the back palate… probably due to the partial use of sherry cask maturation.  The finish is medium-long with a little heat (due to the proof), turning slightly dry and semi-sweet.  I initially thought this apple brandy was just okay, but it grew on me a bit.  After tasting all three expressions, my tastes lean towards the other two grape-wine based brandies.  I enjoyed the apple brandy more with an ice cube as opposed to drinking it neat.


Thanks to Joe Heron for the samples.  Learn more about Copper & Kings at their website (check out their blog while you’re at it):