Copperworks American Single Malt

While in Seattle recently, I took advantage of the opportunity to try a tasting at the new Copperworks distillery. Like Westland, this distillery is also focusing on an “American single malt”, although they are coming at it from a beer brewing perspective.

While its often said that whisky is just distilled beer, there are noticeable differences in production methods. While in both cases malted barley is the source of sugar for fermentation, brewers boil the wort to remove bacterial contaminants that can spoil the beer’s flavour. They also add hops – the bitter-tasting fruit of a vine plant – to balance out beer’s natural sweetness and to act as a natural preservative to stabilize the flavour. Neither step is necessary when distilling whisky, as you not drinking the base product – instead, for whisky you simply ferment the wort, take the resulting wash and distill it. This greatly increases the alcohol level in whisky (which naturally preserves it). Oak barrel aging is then done to balance the whisky’s flavour.

Typically, some brewers have gotten into whisky making by distilling their actual beer (which may require an extra round of distillation, to handle the extra contaminants). Indeed, the press release for the first batch of Copperworks whiskey stated that it was “made from a high-quality craft beer brewed from 100% pale malted barley” from Elysian Brewery.

I sampled Copperwork’s batch 003, which differs significantly from the first two batches. This new release uses a new “Five Malt” recipe consisting of 75% pale malt and 25% caramel malts. The distillery representative referred to this new recipe as their “scotch ale” malt. I note as well that the Elysian website currently says they produce a “sugary wash” (wort?) that Copperworks takes back for fermentation and distillation at their own facility, using Elysian’s house yeast. This suggests to me that Copperworks are now producing whisky directly using this custom five malt mashbill, without going through the full beer-making process (as they presumably were previously with the pale malt on the first two batches).

There aren’t many reviews online for Copperworks, and most of these would be for batch 001/002. But here is how it compares to other North American malt whiskies:

Balcones Texas Single Malt: 8.68 ± 0.34 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Copperworks American Single Malt: 8.59 ± 0.25 on 4 reviews ($$$)
FEW Single Malt: 8.45 ± 0.53 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Westland American Single Malt: 8.57 ± 0.36 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Westland Garryana: 8.64 ± 0.09 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Westland Peated: 8.63 ± 0.57 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Westland Sherry Wood: 8.37 ± 0.55 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Westland Winter 2016: 8.5 ± 0.73 on 3 reviews ($$$$)

According to Copperworks, their American Single Malt is twice-distilled in their traditional-style copper pot stills. It is matured for 34 months in full-size, charred, new American Oak barrels, made from Virginia oak and coopered in Kentucky. It is bottled at a fairly high 52% ABV, and retails for $60 USD.  I sampled from bottle 195 of 1559 produced for batch 003. Here’s what I find in the glass:

Nose: First impression is sweet fruit (with pear and plums especially), and a variety of tropical fruits (mango, papaya, and pineapple). Also citrus, and an herbal component that borders on eucalyptus. Spicy nose, with black pepper. Not much in the way of caramel or vanilla – apparently these were a lot more prominent on the earlier pale malt batches. Noticeable solvent off-notes, mainly acetone.

Palate:  Sweet, with similar plummy notes as the nose.  Unfortunately, that acetone from the nose turns into an artificial sweetener note here. Getting the caramel now, along with a charcoal note from the wood. Adding water brings up butterscotch, and enhances the caramely sweetness.

Copperworks.003Finish: Medium. The artificial sweetener turns into more natural molasses (which is actually a positive). A bit of sourness comes in at the end, but not offensive. Some mild baking spices show up now as well (touch of cinnamon).

It’s an interesting whisky – surprisingly fruity, with some bold flavours. Not really an everyday sort of dram, but a fun novelty when looking for something different. I would personally score it as on par with the standard Westland American Single Malt that I recently reviewed. It will be interesting to see how this product progresses.

For reviews of the earlier batch 001/002, check out Whisky Advocate, the Whiskey Wash and the Whiskey Reviewer.

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