Cookin’ Whiskey at Copper Fox Distillery
By Bob Tagert
Cookin’ Whiskey at Copper Fox Distillery
In July of 2009 we first wrote about Rick Wasmund, founder, owner and master distiller of Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville, Virginia. We had chosen Rick as a Personality Profile instead of a Business Profile because he had just sold his first bottle of Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky and the reports were still rolling in, however, as a personality, he was great.
In 1999 Rick was leading a comfortable life in Middleburg, Virginia as an insurance agent and living on a large estate that he also managed. While attending a Scotch whisky tasting event in Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C., the idea of making a whisky with fruit wood rather than peat came to him. All Scotch whisky is peat smoked to get that unique flavor. Clearly it was a good idea as he convinced his neighbor Sean Mcaskey to join his venture. When asked why he agreed so readily, Sean said, “It just seemed like a good idea!” On a personal note, Rick and Sean are two of the most laid back and smart people that you will ever meet.
To learn more about the distilling process, the two visited many U.S. distilleries including Maker’s Mark, Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, A. Smith Bowman and even a distillery that was closed–they received an escort out of the facility rather than a tour! Asked what they hoped to learn, Wasmund jokingly answered that he wanted to hear that the idea was impossible, but the visits only reinforced his belief about the viability of creating a unique whiskey product.
Leaving Virginia and his job, Wasmund traveled to Scotland, where he obtained an internship at Bowmore Distillery on Islay, where he learned to malt his own barley. There he also received confirmation that his ideas were new to the whisky world and unique enough to create a commercially viable product. He also gained an appreciation of the skill, passion, dedication and perseverance necessary to pursue his dream…perseverance being the key word for his future.
Upon returning to Virginia, Wasmund started working on a business plan for his venture and by September 2001 started raising investment money. He operated under the license of Copper Fox Distillery for a while before buying the apple facility where the first distillery was located in Sperryville. Rick designed the set up for the distillery and he and Sean built most of the physical plan. The first whisky they made was an applewood smoked American Single Malt Whisky. This landmark whisky is still my favorite today.
In August 2006 the first bottle of Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky was sold. The dream had come true as Wasmund’s greatest pleasure that year was seeing the first bottle of Wasmund’s on the shelf of a store in Warrenton. Wasmund spent many days and miles on the road introducing his Single Malt Whisky to new drinkers throughout the United States. As the business began to grow, so did his business family and his personal life.
Rick’s mom, Helen (Malt Mom), soon joined the business after selling her home and business in Buffalo, New York to help with the day to day operation. Rick’s life was about to change as well. One evening in 2007 Rick decided to visit the popular Griffin Tavern and Restaurant in Flint Hill. Here he struck up a conversation with Chelsea Stone, a local nurse. He eventually asked if he could buy her a drink and she ask what did he recommend! “How about my whisky,” he said proudly. “What are you drinking?” she asked. “No, he responded, I mean the whisky that I make at my distillery.” Three years later they were married.
The marketing was proving effective for Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky as Rick visited as many states as he could. The company was also engaged in developing new products as well. Soon they had developed their Copper Fox Original Rye that was apple and cherry wood smoked. With the success of the original Rye, they developed their extremely popular Peachwood Smoked American Single Malt. They even got into the clear whisky business with their “Vir Gin” a single malt gin with great floral notes.
As the brand was expanding, so was their family. Daughter Camille was born and a few years later son Mason arrived. With the business and family expanding there was an acute need for a second location. In 2014, Wasmund became aware of a 6 acre, 104-room motel – The Lord Padget – that the city of Williamsburg owned and was willing to sell. With the vision of how he could turn this into a perfect distillery in the heart of Williamsburg, he swung into action. He purchased the property and began developing it into a distillery. He soon established a bottling room, and tasting room and a retail store. Moving forward Rick implemented his plan…some rooms were gutted and reconfigured for much needed barrel storage as Sperryville had maxed out.
He also created two new malting floors so they could meet the demand of being the only hand malted barley for the distillery. He had also started selling his barley to the tide of new craft brewers that were flowing into the region. In addition, the property also had a freestanding home on the property where Rick and Chelsea could raise their family.
The last part to be developed was the new welcome area which includes a large bar and tasting room as well as the Company Store. Large glass windows have been built into the walls where you can view the mash being processed as well as the new still. The new still can produce twice as much product as the Sperryville operation. This helps in keeping up with the demand. In addition to their original four products, Copper Fox now produces Sassy Single Malt Rye (a sassafrass smoked single malt rye), Apple Brandy Barrel Finish Original American Single Malt, Port Style Barrel Finish Original American Single Malt, Cognac Barrel Finish Limited Edition Rye as well as Single Malt, Rye and Bourbon Mash Spirits.
Speaking of bourbon, Copper Fox has recently started making Dawson Reserve Bourbon. This bourbon is named after their late friend Billy Dawson who was the exclusive grower of the barley used in all Copper Fox products. Over the years the relationship between Billy and Rick grew into a mutual respect that each produced the best product they could. Here Billy lives in their hearts in Dawson’s Reserve Bourbon.
What started out as a true epiphany fueled with that unwavering “I can do that” passion of Rick Wasmund, a brand-new whisky was born and is being well received within the industry and by customers. If you decide to take a road trip, whether you head to the mountains or the Chesapeake Bay be sure to stop at one of the Copper Fox Distilleries and take a tour and enjoy a flight of their whiskys or one of their craft cocktails. Like Rick says…’On the rocks with some water to release the flavor’…he was right.
Copper Fox Distillery
901 Capitol Landing Road
#9 River Lane