I was visiting Seattle on a work trip a couple months ago and, as usual, I was looking for a good place to grab a drink. Much to my surprise, I found that there was a fully operational distillery located within walking distance of the Pike Place Market. They didn’t have any tours that day, but pretty much the entire facility (including their stills) can be seen from the tasting room where I tried their unique take on malt whiskey.
It’s technically true that all whiskey starts as beer — a fermented mash of grain, yeast, and water. The folks at Copperworks Distillery in Seattle took that concept one step further, producing an actual drinkable beer prior to distilling it into a delicious whiskey. It’s an interesting twist on the standard formula, and one that I truly enjoyed trying.
Jason Parker and Micah Nutt are a pair of craft beer makers in the Seattle area. Wanting to branch out and try new varieties of alcoholic beverages, they combined forces and in 2013 opened the Copperworks Distillery.
Following a common pattern, the distillery started producing un-aged spirits such as vodka and gin while socking away some product in barrels and waiting for it to naturally age. That wait is finally over, and these days they also produce a single malt whiskey and a barrel aged gin.
Since opening, they have gained some notoriety for their products including being labeled as “Distillery of the Year” in 2018 by the American Distilling Institute.
I want to start by saying I love the attention to detail that comes with this distillery. Normally we only get some hints about what went into the production of a spirit, but in this case Copperworks Distilling publish a complete and detailed list of the various steps of the distilling process, alcohol content at each stage, yield, and other interesting facts. You can look up the production run for your specific bottle here. Today’s bottle is from release 19, their first run of a single cask version of their spirit, and I’ve archived that fact sheet here for your review.
The grain bill for this whiskey consists entirely of Skagit Valley Alba 6 row pale malt and was brewed at the Elysian Brewing Co. facility in Seattle in three batches. From there, the finished beer is distilled twice (if you’re interested in yield and alcohol content, the data is in there for every single batch run) and then placed into a single charred (char #2) American oak barrel from the Kelvin Cooperage in Kentucky.
The whiskey sat in that single barrel for exactly 1,047 days and was then bottled in 257 bottles.
I love that I have this much data available. As a whiskey nerd, it makes the drinking a whole lot more enjoyable to know exactly how something was made to this level of detail.
The bottle is a design that I’ve seen a couple times before, but the fact that others use it doesn’t detract from my appreciation. I like this design — it’s a squared bottle with a long slender bottle that tapers aggressively to a short round neck. The bottle is topped with a wood and cork stopper that has some etching with their branding on it.
The label on the front of the bottle talks about the whiskey and the distillery, and is styled similarly to their distillery in Seattle with block letters and a copper font.
Something interesting is that the back label is a vibrant red color on the inside. The impact this has is to make the whiskey in the bottle seem red, which is a strange color for whiskey but visually appealing on the shelf.
I get a whiff of some smells that I would normally associate with a more heavily oaked spirit like a bourbon, specifically notes of caramel and vanilla. It’s much sweeter than those other spirits, possibly with a bit of honey added in, but it feels closer to the Texas Bourbon than a Scottish single malt.
The first sip brings one thought to mind: it tastes exactly like sipping an IPA.
The spirit tastes very sweet, with the first flavor that comes to mind being crisp apples. A couple more seconds and there’s some distinct floral flavors accompanied by a touch of bitterness. It’s not an unpleasant bitterness, more of a hint than something that could actually put you off the spirit.
Honestly, even though they specifically call out that no hops are used anywhere in the process, it tastes like a hoppy IPA.
Other than that small bitterness the spirit is smooth and delicious.
With a touch of ice that bitterness is completely gone. All that’s left is the sweetness of the spirit.
Interestingly, to me, the spirit seems to taste a whole lot more like a sip of Aunt Jemima maple syrup than crisp apples at this point. There’s a bit of apple on the finish but otherwise it’s straight (fake) maple syrup.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
It’s okay. It’s not amazing, just okay.
To me there’s just not enough flavor left in the spirit after the addition of the ice. It’s very sweet and does balance the bitterness of the added bitters very well, but the orange flavor is left to run rampant over the remainder of the flavors. It’s like a very sweet orange juice. Which is fine, but not what I want in an Old Fashioned.
It doesn’t work. The spirit just doesn’t have anything left to give. The ginger beer is overpowering and bitter with no bold flavors to counter act it.
It’s not the end of the world, just means that you probably shouldn’t blend it with stronger mixers.
I love the distilling process used here. I love the attention to detail and the level of record keeping for each bottle. And I really like the interesting taste of this spirit. To me, it’s a little on the sweet side, but that’s just personal preference and anyone who likes a sweeter whiskey will greatly enjoy this.
Copperworks American Single Malt Whiskey Release 019
Owner: Copperworks Distillery
Production: Seattle, WA
Classification: Single malt whiskey
Grain bill: 100% Skagit Valley Alba 6 row pale malt
Aging: ~3 years, charred American oak
Proof: 50% ABV
Price: $60/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
I like it very much.