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Copperworks Distilling Co.

Forward movement

Incorporated in January of 2011, Copperworks Distilling Co. signed a long lease for a location across the street from Seattle's waterfront in April 2012. They were looking for more than a production facility, knowing they'd want a tasting room as well. Under the viaduct, it was not easily seen. Who knew they'd end up in the catbird seat in a renewed area? Actually, co-founder and president Jason Parker had a pretty good idea.

Jason Parker

Jason was the first brewer for Pike Brewing Company, starting in 1989. He spent two years there, learning why Pike owners Charles and Rose Ann Finkel saw value in the Market/waterfront area. "My business partner, Jeff Kanof, and I jumped on the Alaskan Way location when we saw it. It was built in 1918 and was the home of Pacific Net and Twine, a fishing net business. They went out of business in the mid-50s; the building was different things eventually becoming home to Amgen, later purchased by IMMUNEX. It was six stories of labs and research areas, with shipping and receiving where we are now. When they moved out, it was empty for ten years. The front area is higher than the space behind it, which wouldn't work for everyone, but is perfect for our tasting room. We have 7,000 square feet total, which includes 2,000 square feet for the barrel storage area."

Co-founder Micah Nutt and Jason wanted to make whiskey; both have brewing backgrounds. "We thought, what if we make great beer and base it on that?" recalls Jason. Beer takes advantage of yeast, sanitation, it's efficient and clean, quality driven. Distilling not so much, often using sloppy techniques. Those techniques leave a back note of sloppy fermentation. There's nothing wrong with that, the flavor has become traditional, expected. It's written into law - it has to be made like this to taste like this. But because of early distillers' success, they lost their ability to innovate. So we thought distilling high quality beer was an obvious but overlooked opportunity. Our goal became to make our whiskey from high quality beer. On our label it says 'From great brewing comes great spirits' and everything we do comes from that place. Anyone can research and find out how to make whiskey, but if you ask them why they take the steps they do, they don't know. So we had to write the book on how to make whiskey from beer.

"Whiskey in most countries, with the exception of India, is made from grain, fermented, distilled, and aged in oak (with a few exceptions). Bourbon is a whiskey made from corn, at least 51% but traditionally 70-95%. We make American Single Malt which, to this day, has no legal definition. In the '50s, bourbon producers wanted to create standards that broke out the steps to make it taste like bourbon. The TTB (Tax Trade Bureau, formerly the ATF) created standards of identity with industry help. They weren't interested in helping innovation, they were trying to lessen any confusion consumers might face. All labels have to be approved by the TTB."

Six years ago, nine distilleries, including Copperworks met during a spirits convention in Chicago, Illinois, to talk and created the American Single Malt Commission with a goal of creating standards the TTB could enshrine. The Commission created a website where distilleries could agree with the standards suggested - 190 signed up as of 2020, and they have 89 paid members. It's taken a while, but it's now on the TTB agenda to approve and may come through in January-February 2022. "We're excited and are working on a program to educate stores about the product and ask them to create a special section for it."

To ensure that success in creating standards doesn't lead to a lack of innovation, they cast a wide net. "We have no aging standards, no requirement on type of barrels (they do have to be oak but can be new or used) or stills. Spirits still have to go into bottle at 80 proof, something that is required of all spirits in America."

Copperworks makes their spirits at the Alaskan Way and include their American Single Malt Whiskey, Small Batch Gin, New Oak Cask Finished Gin, and Washington Malt Vodka. In addition, there are three new releases:

 

  • American Peated Malt Whiskey developed with Skagit Valley Malting. It's a single, cask cast strength version of their Washington Peated Whiskey. The peat was harvested from a lakebed on the Olympic Peninsula. Perhaps not surprising, this is already sold out.
  • Amaro Cask Finished Gin is part of their experimental series. A used Copperworks whiskey barrel is given to Letterpress Distilling which uses it to make amaro then returns the barrel to Copperworks (photo).
  • Kentucky Tornado Relief Single Malt Whiskey. Jason had been saving Barrel 270 (270 is the area for Bowling Green, Kentucky, where he is from) with no particular plan. For a larger production (430 bottles), they blended with another barrel of whiskey. This whiskey is available for pre-sale now and available mid-January. Copperworks will donate $40 to the Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund for every bottle sold.

Their Release 039 is the first whiskey ever to be bottled from Salmon-Safe grains. Salmon-Safe certification represents ecologically sustainable agricultural practices that protect water quality and wildlife habitat. Copperworks continues to move forward on numerous fronts.

Connie Adams/January 2022

Click here to read about Jason's background.

Click here to read about Jeff's background

Watch for Part 2 in our February issue. Copperworks has big expansion plans, including two bars, a pub, restaurant, event space, and more production space.

Copperworks Distilling Co.
1250 Alaskan Way
Seattle, WA 98101
206-504-7604

www.copperworksdistilling.com


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