Rick Wasmund: Passionately Practicing the Art of Whisky
Gilda Radner once stated that, “I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.” Rick Wasmund embodies the spirit of Gilda Radner’s infamous quotation. His journey from working on an estate in Middleburg to building Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville, VA is one that inspires countless weekend whisky warriors to make the journey to his home and current place of work. But, perhaps I am getting ahead of myself.
In 1999 Rick Wasmund found himself enjoying a Johnny Walker tasting. As he sipped on the whisky, he remembered wondering about “cooking with apple wood, cherry wood, and smoking with other blends of fruitwoods; something that, at the time, no one in the industry was pursuing.” It is at this point in his story that a passion was lit.
Rick soon found himself visiting distilleries all over the United States. When the U.S. market no longer sated his thirst for knowledge, he made the journey to our northern Canadian neighbor. By 2000 he found himself taking a trip to the other side of the pond. In true Rick fashion, i.e. a bullheaded desire to good-naturedly push forward with his passion, he found himself touring Scottish distilleries that malted their own barley. As luck would have it, Rick happened upon Islay during their whisky festival. With a charming personality and a witty quip at the ready, Rick was offered a game-changing internship at the prestigious Bowmore distillery.
Upon his return to the U.S. Rick Wasmund decided to roll the dice. He was determined to build a new whisky enterprise – one that embodied his industry changing idea of using special fruitwood peat, hand cut fruitwood chips, smoke from fruitwood, and fruitwood barrels in the traditional whisky making process. With the help of investors, Copper Fox Distillery opened, after a few false starts, in 2005. In August of 2006, Rick was proud to see the first bottle of ‘Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky.’
As previously mentioned in Gilda Radner’s quote, some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, or end. But for Rick Wasmund, the story of his whisky passion always had a clear starting point; he just had to learn to “see the direction that it was going.” Fast-forward to 2014 and you will find Rick happily letting life steer him towards his next story: the expansion of his whisky phenomenon to Williamsburg.
It was at this point in our chat that I paused and asked Rick to reflect on his journey. I asked if there was anything he regretted. With a bit of a smirk, he shook his head no, but then his smile took on a slightly rueful hue as he recalled that he “couldn’t have had this adventure while married. I risked too much and would never have been able to do that while still being a good husband and father.” Right on cue, the apple of his eye, his 3 ½ year old daughter Camille came running into the office to give her daddy a big hug.
After seeing his beaming pride as he swooped his daughter up into a giant bear hug, I knew that there was more to this man than a whisky passion turned successful business venture. And so, I did what any writer would do, I asked about what else influenced his life, besides the obvious love for his family (including the family Black Labrador, aptly named Gin). For a kid from upstate New York his response took me a bit by surprise “sailing.”
I for one think of bitterly cold winters, small mountains, and beautiful fall foliage when I remember my days of living in upstate NY. But for Rick, New York and his college days at UMASS Amherst are filled with memories of learning to sail. Most of us would attempt to become sailors by learning to sail on breezy days. But, not Rick; he approached sailing just as he would later approach his whisky endeavors, with a fiery passion that found him learning the graceful art of the unexpected capsize on stormy days. He recalled whipping across the Finger Lakes and parts of Ontario during the fiercest of storms. Sailing knots were quickly learned and a passion that would continue for the next 30 years was born. In fact, sailing and a love for the water was part of the reason for choosing Williamsburg as the location of his next distillery.
Whether he is helping an employee rake the latest batch of barley seeds, tightening the sail to coax his boat to faster speeds, or spending time with his loving wife and daughter, Rick Wasmund is the picture of calm passion. His passions infiltrate all corners of his life in the most beautiful of fashions. By embracing life and all of its unknowns, Rick has been able to find a career doing what he loves in a kaleidoscope of unique ways. In his words, he “enjoys what he does here because it is so broad. From the design to the space and the engineering challenges that are independent of alcohol, I get to have a hand in everything and every aspect of this timeless art. At Copper Fox, we have a particular passion for whisky.”
Written by: Laura P. Parker