A Different Kind of Distillery in Bourbon County
All images courtesy Copper & Kings.
There are new distilleries opening all over Kentucky, and plenty more in the planning stages. But one is a distillery of a different color.
The new black and orange building in Louisville, Ky., has plenty of barrels aging in its lower level, but there’s no bourbon. This is Copper & Kings, and founders Joe and Leslie Heron are aging brandy in those barrels.
“There’s enough traditional whiskey in the world,” says Joe Heron.
The Herons, a couple originally from South Africa, are the folks who came up with Crispin Cider, a popular fermented apple cider that MillerCoors purchased. They also previously had invented a soft drink product. But Heron says he’s found his forever place.
“This is my last business,” he says with a smile. He fully admits he’s fallen in love with Copper & Kings, which is set to open sometime in May. He has good reason to. The huge, copper stills are just two reasons – the distillery is going to do more than just make good brandy, it’s going to be an all-out tourist destination as well as an active part of the small Butchertown neighborhood in which it sits.
During a recent tour of the place, workers were busy building a pig roaster outside the place, just feet from what Heron calls a “conversation pit” – a sunken fire pit with built-in seating. On the roof of the place will be an open-air deck for events, complete with a catering area and a retail store. A level below, there is an art gallery and more event space.
He also simply loves the area, which he believes is primed for big growth. He says he believes Butchertown – so named for a tradition of butchering businesses in the area, including a nearby slaughterhouse – can be “the Brooklyn of Louisville.”
He may be right. Just down the road is a business and retail center, and a couple of breweries and several restaurants are just a few stone’s throws away as well.
As for the product, Copper & Kings will utilize several grape varietals and also apples. They’ll primarily be aged in bourbon barrels, but Cognac barrels, sherry barrels and even juniper barrels imported from Serbia will be in the mix. Heron is so serious about making a good product that music will be playing for the barrels at all times as the brandy ages.
And the brandy isn’t going to be for the faint of heart, either – it’s full-on American brandy.
“It’s got a bit of swagger and balls to it,” Heron says.
They are working with flavor master David Dafoe, who helped the couple develop both Crispin Cider and their Nutrisoda product. A sample Heron gave me of a red grape brandy was proof positive they’re onto something. It was big, bold and complex – very much like a bourbon but with a sense of the fruit peeking through. And while there is also a warm, bourbon-like finish, the beverage is still very smooth.
The idea has been percolating for several years, Heron said, but he stops short of saying why now was the time to move to Louisville and just do it.
“Often, it’s just about a break in the clouds,” he says with a smile. “All businesses are leaps of faith.”
And while he’s purposely staying away from distilling bourbon, he says he and his wife fully want to be a part of the state’s signature industry.
“We have to match that standard,” he said. “We have no intention of not adding to the Kentucky distilling heritage.”
Based on what I saw and tasted during my visit to Copper & Kings, they’re off to a great start.