With a whiskey like this one–and this is true of many, if not most, craft distilleries–it is important to know what its producer was up to in creating it. Of course, some craft distillers are trying to bottle liquid as soon as possible to generate revenue. But in this case, the story matters, and it matters even more for a whiskey geek with a well-developed palate. If you didn’t know the story, you’d find this whiskey perplexing: on the nose, notes of apple cider still in its diapers alongside some woody astringency and a weird meal of white asparagus tips sautéed in oyster water, rejected Parmesan cheese wheels that had wood pulp in them, and a glass of orange zest juice with extra pith. On the mouth, you might find well-washed gun parts, crabapple grappa, and a viscosity like a liqueur. Through the finish, you look for the bad stuff that often comes with very young whiskey, but you don’t find it. Instead, you’re faced with a bright and biting but still quite interesting whiskey that’s preternaturally dark.
Once you know the story, and it’s one that involves a guy who has long been fascinated with the malting process–so much so, in fact, that he finagled an internship at Bowmore Distillery with Jim McEwan (before he left to help restart Bruichladdich). And it centers on years of experimenting with malting barley with smoke from different woods and settling on apple and cherry woods. There’s more than this to it, of course (much of which you can find on the Copper Fox website), but just knowing this much makes approaching this whiskey an entirely different experience.
Approaching it armed with this knowledge yields an entirely new set of notes: on the nose, it’s a cigar with very fair tobacco lit tentatively with a road flare, smoked cheese wrapped in rosemary and topped with slices of granny smith apples, yak brisket sliders cooked in lava and served with a cherry and port reduction, and a green sapling burned as a sacrifice to the tree god. The mouth evokes thoughts of artisanal gin made not with juniper berries, but with rattlesnake hearts; cave fires at the dawn of man; and tarry sweetness barely masking the carcinogenic beauty beneath. Even before the finish, this scratches an itch we didn’t know we had. As it finishes, there’s also a beef jerky note, or maybe it’s the aftermath of double order of garfish balls and gravy–but only if they were smoked first over a driftwood pyre on the shore of a quiet inlet.
Maybe you don’t see the difference there, or maybe you do and don’t know what to make of it. And if you’ve ever read any of our writing, you know we’re not ones to tell you what to make of any whiskey! But here, I will just say this: this Copper Fox Single Malt Whisky is a fascinating case study in someone focusing on smoking malted barley just so. The rest of the whisky-making here is impressive, but this whiskey really shines a spotlight on what wood smoke can do for a whisky.
The Copper Fox Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky (18 Months, Batch 126) is Samuel Beckett’s Malone Dies–Stripped of setting and plot and character development, this novel is almost pure narrative. And despite the fact that it takes one to a place so new it’s at times uncomfortable, it’s also life-affirming in its own peculiar way.
–Our thanks to Robin Robinson and Copper Fox for the sample!