Copper & Kings (finally) releases first bourbon

Master Distiller Brandon O'Daniel on barrels
Copper & Kings Master Distiller Brandon O’Daniel shares some samples from other bourbon finishes. | Photo by Sara Havens

Copper & Kings American Brandy has marched to its own double-base drum solo since it opened in Louisville’s Butchertown neighborhood in 2014. A brandy distillery located smack dab in the middle of Bourbon Country that produces just about everything but bourbon might confuse tourists, but locals know their spirits, tours, competent crew and rooftop restaurant have always been top-notch.

Now, after eight years in the industry and under new ownership of Constellation Brands, Copper & Kings is finally releasing a bourbon — but of course it has a C&K twist to it. The sourced bourbons will be finished in used brandy barrels from the distillery and will only be available on a bottle-your-own tour called the Barrel-To-Bottle Experience.

I stopped by the distillery Wednesday morning to find out more about the hands-on tour and, most importantly, the bourbon. Master Distiller Brandon O’Daniel gave me a behind-the-scenes tour and a few samples he drilled right from the barrel, and he explained why C&K threw it’s hat into the bourbon ring after all this time.

Copper & Kings first bourbon
Copper & Kings first bourbon | Courtesy

But first, let’s talk bourbon. At the moment, C&K isn’t set up to distill bourbon on its four Vendome-made pot stills, so the distillery will be sourcing bourbon from “friends in the business.”

O’Daniel said the first batch, which is available now, comes from 5-6-year-old bourbon sourced from Indiana, so it’s likely it is MGP juice. O’Daniel then finishes the bourbon for 13 months in either apple or grape brandy barrels.

If you take the Barrel-To-Bottle tour, you’ll get to try both expressions and select your favorite to bottle — while this first batch of 14 barrels lasts. But don’t worry, O’Daniel and his team have many more bourbon finishes up their sleeves, and those will be released on the tour when the others run out.

If you’re wondering about proof, this bourbon comes out at cask strength, so the grape brandy finished bourbon is 119 proof, and the apple brandy finished bourbon is 122 proof.

Out of the two mentioned above, my palate cozied up to the apple finish as the favorite, but the grape finish isn’t far behind. They both have great spice notes and bourbon staples like vanilla, caramel and oak on the nose, but the taste takes it to another level with the finishing barrels.

The apple finish has a bit more earthy and baked fruit notes on the palate, and the finish is like a scoop of vanilla ice cream plopped next to a slice of fresh-from-the-oven apple pie, complete with a sprinkle of cinnamon. Meanwhile, the grape finish is more floral on the palate, with hints of honeysuckle, fresh green apple and green grapes. The finish on this one is also quite pleasant and fruity.

C&K has an entire inventory of award-winning spirits — brandy, gin and absinthe — so by adding bourbon to the lineup, it only pads their success and pushes them toward more and more innovation.

“We’ve been anxious to get into bourbon for some time, but we’re making sure we’re still doing true to our brand and doing things our way,” said O’Daniel. “It’s been fun.”

The fill-your-own-bottle station
The fill-your-own-bottle station | Photo by Sara Havens

O’Daniel seems truly at home downstairs with all the aging barrels, a mad scientist tinkering in his spirits laboratory and blaring Phish to the barrels while they rest (what C&K terms “sonic aging”). And he assures me that while the bourbon game has been fun to get into, the distillery’s flagship product will always be brandy.

The Barrel-to-Bottle Experience is $35 for the tour, plus $65 for the hand-filled 750ml bottle of your choice. The tour includes all sorts of tastings, including both bourbons, and there are other options at the bottle-your-own station as well.

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