Copper & Kings Distillery Tour Review

Copper & Kings American Brandy Company is a unique distillery located in Louisville, Kentucky's Butchertown neighborhood. In addition to American Brandy, they distill other spirits and also make a brandy barrel aged bourbon. The have a variety of visitor experiences as well as a rooftop bar. Check our full review to learn more!

Copper & Kings American Brandy Company
Distillery
121 E Washington St
Louisville, KY 40206
(502) 561-0267
copperandkings.com
Tour – Review

Please enjoy our Copper & Kings Distillery Tour Review!

Louisville, Kentucky Is Home To Many Distilleries

Since the late 1700’s, Louisville, KY has been home to countless distilleries. Today, some 240 years later, not much has changed. Distilleries both large and small continue to dot the city’s landscape. Among these, Copper & Kings stands out from the crowd. There’s no whiskey made here. Grapes and apples replace corn and rye making Copper & Kings the only brandy distillery in Kentucky.

While the burgeoning distillery may have been the new kid on its Butchertown block when it opened in 2014, its founders, Joe and Leslie Heron were already seasoned beverage entrepreneurs. The couple had previously founded and sold off two other beverage companies, Nutrisoda and Crispin Cider. 

Once again the Heron’s left their mark, as the present-day Copper & Kings forges ahead under the direction of Constellation Brands. While ownership has changed, production methods remain the same and the company continues to produce brandies focusing its efforts on innovation, experimentation, and collaboration.

Copper & Kings Distillery Is Located In The Butchertown Neighborhood

Copper & Kings planted its foothold in the Butchertown neighborhood of Louisville located approximately 1.5 miles east of downtown’s “Whiskey Row”. The old Louisville Seed and Grain Company building at 1121 E. Washington St. was renovated for the new business. The distillery is open daily for tours and retail sales, while its rooftop bar and restaurant is open select hours Thursday through Sunday. 

Two Tour Options (Experiences) Are Offered

The distillery currently offers two tour options. The Copper & Kings Experience is available daily on the hour from 10a-5p. This $25 tour is an educational tour and tasting of 4 of their spirits: brandy, gin, absinthe, and liqueurs. The Barrel-to Bottle Experience, the tour that we chose, is available Friday-Sunday at 9:30, 12:30, and 3:30. The $35 cost covers a more in depth educational and tasting experience. More science, more tasting, and the option of bottling your own spirit keeps this tour frequently full. Reservations can be made online at copperandkings.com.

Our Tour Begins

Upon our arrival at Copper & Kings, we made our way to the second floor of the distillery building. Here, we checked-in for the tour and met our guide Sarah. After a quick introduction to the group, Sarah led us back down stairs to the distillery floor where the tour began.

Copper & Kings Tour Check-In and Gift Shop
Copper & Kings Tour Check-In and Gift Shop

Sarah first began by quickly discussing why brandy was made historically. For centuries, farmers made brandy as way to preserve their remaining seasonal fruit harvest. Most interesting is that according to Copper & Kings website, the first recorded brandy distillation in America was in 1640 on Staten Island. This preceded the first recorded U.S. bourbon whiskey distillation by 180 years. 

Next Sarah reviewed the 3 primary grape varietals used in their grape brandies. They are the French Colombard, the Muscat de Alexandrie, and the South African Chenin Blanc. She also pointed out that not  all batches start from scratch as the distillery does source some of its wines for distillation.

The distillery’s two standard grape brandies are Copper & Kings American Craft Brandy and Copper & Kings Butchertown Brandy. While both are aged a little over 5 years, the main difference is barrel selection and proof. The American Craft uses 90% brandy barreled and aged in used Kentucky bourbon barrels and 10% brandy aged in new American Oak barrels, and is bottled at 90 proof. The Butchertown uses 75% and 25% respectively and is bottled at a 124 proof.

Having covered the ingredients, Sarah made quick mention of fermentation. Due to space constraints, fermenters are located both on the distillery floor as well as on the second floor. Once fermentation is complete, it’s distillation time.

Fermenters - Copper & Kings Distillery Tour Review
Fermenters – Copper & Kings Distillery Tour Review
The Stills of Copper & Kings Distillery

Thus, the topic at hand turned to the stills of Copper & Kings Distillery, and specifically, their use of the alembic pot still. An alembic still consists of 3 basic parts. First, the pot still itself with its customary onion-shaped helmet on top, the swan neck, and the condenser. Cooper & Kings has not one, not two, but four alembic stills. All were hand-crafted just a stones throw from the distillery at Vendome Copper and Brass Works. 

Distilleries frequently name their stills and Copper & Kings is no exception. Rose Marie is the largest and newest addition (2019) with a capacity of 2000 gallons. Isis falls next in line at half the capacity of Rose Marie, 1000 gallons. Third by size, Magdalena has a 750 gallon capacity. Finally, Sara, the smallest still and used primarily for experimental batches, comes in at only 50 gallons. In addition, any die-hard Bob Dylon fan should recognize the last 3 names from his Desire album. It turns out that music plays both an interesting and functional role at the distillery. The stills names are one of its interesting features.

The four Alembic Pot Still of Copper & Kings Distillery
The four Alembic Pot Stills of Copper & Kings Distillery
Copper & King’s Distillation Method

Once the stills were introduced, Sarah then dove a bit into the mechanics of Copper & Kings distillation methods. First, fermented wine is added to the still. Copper coils inside the pot allow steam to heat the liquid. According to Sarah, the process is done slow and steady in order to avoid scorching since the fermented wine has a very high sugar content. An agitator bar inside the pot also helps this process by acting like a large spoon constantly stirring the liquid.

Next, alcohol begins to rise off of the still in vapor form once the temperature reaches 173 degrees. The vapor then heads up through the onion-shaped helmet into the swan neck and over to the condenser where it is cooled and returned to liquid form. This distillation occurs without separating any heads, hearts, or tails. The distillate from this run is called low wine. 

The crucial fine tuning occurs in the second distillation. Although the same process is repeated, the second time around, great care is taken to remove sulfites and other undesirable impurities. The slow and steady temperature along with lots of copper contact and optimal cuts for the heads and tails, lead to the perfect combination of flavors and aroma. When the second run has completed, the unaged brandy is ready for the barrel.

Brandy Is Aged In Barrels

Similarly to bourbon, Copper & Kings uses new charred American oak barrels to age their grape brandy. However, the majority of said brandy is aged in used Kentucky bourbon barrels. Unlike its grainy cousin, whose production is fraught with rules, American brandy’s only requirements are that it must be made from fermented fruit and aged in some type of barrel for 2 years. 

Surprisingly, although Copper & Kings resides in the heart of the city, it does have on-site barrel storage for approximately 1200 barrels. Sarah led the way to the basement rickhouse, and as we got closer, we could hear the increasingly stronger vibrations of very loud music. As mentioned previously, music is definitely interwined in various aspects of the distillery. Its task here is a crucial one. Because the distillery’s on-site barrel storage lies in the basement, temperature fluctuations in the room are minimal. As a result, the brandy has a harder time moving in and out of the wood of its barrel.

Copper & Kings Uses Sonic Aging

Copper & Kings helps to solve this problem through the use of sonic aging. The process works as follows. What our hearing perceived as just extremely loud music (Sarah did turn it down while we visited the area), in actuality, was the pulsing of bass notes meant to move the liquid inside the barrel. This pulsating motion increases the liquid’s interaction with the walls of the barrel, thus helping to pull out desirable congeners into the brandy. According to Copper & Kings website, the storage area contains 5 major sub-woofers. The music played is carefully chosen and organized into numerous rotating playlists.

More Than Just Brandy

Our visit to the basement wrapped up the distillery portion of the tour and it was time to head back upstairs for the tasting portion. While the distillery tour had focused mainly on Copper & Kings grape brandy making techniques, the company does distill other fruits, in particular apples for their apple brandy. They also make a wide variety of spirits including their own gin, absinthe, and Destillaré line of liqueurs. The distillery also touts their collaborative barrel swapping program with numerous American Craft Brewers, aging their brandy in barrels previously used to age beer. They also source various other used barrels such as tequilla, port, oloroso sherry and maple.

Barrels For Copper & Kings' Collaborative Barrel Program
Barrels For Copper & Kings’ Collaborative Barrel Program
Time For The Tasting

With so much to choose from at Copper & Kings, it’s not surprising that our tasting included 9 different offerings. A quick rundown goes as follows: the flagship grape brandy at 90 proof and 124 proof, an apple brandy finished in a maple barrel, a 6 year high rye bourbon finished in a grape brandy barrel, a 6 year high rye bourbon finished in an apple brandy barrel, a grape brandy finished in a High West Rendezvous Rye barrel, a lemon gin, a Destillaré café liqueur, and finally, a 4 year old absinthe. As Sarah poured through the many tastes, she skillfully described in detail each sample. And, of course, once the tasting was complete, we were reminded that the bottles were available for purchase.

Time To Bottle

Because we had chosen to take Copper and King’s Barrel-to-Bottle Experience we had the option to bottle our own. There were 6 barrel choices offered the day of our tour. We opted for the delicious 6 year high rye bourbon finished in an apple brandy barrel. The bourbon was from MGP and sold at cask strength.  The cost of the bottle was not included in the tour price, however the $65 price tag seemed very reasonable, so of course we bought two!

Barrels for the Bottle Your Own Spirits
Barrels for the Bottle Your Own Spirits

The bottling concluded our tour and so our time had come at Copper & Kings had come to an end. For a fruit distillery in a corn heavy town, Copper & Kings measures up very well. It’s even on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour. And while the mashing of sweet smelling grains may lure the whiskey lover to the River City, Copper and Kings Distillery shows us there is much more. Come for the bourbon, but don’t miss the brandy.

We hope you have enjoyed our Copper & Kings Distillery Tour Review! Would you like to read about more Louisville, Kentucky distilleries? Check out our Rabbit Hole Distillery Tour Review and our Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co Tour Review!

Thank you so much to Sarah for our wonderful tasting and tour!

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