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New York whisky aged in locally sourced oak

Coppersea Distilling, the Heritage-Methods craft distillery, New York, has filled the first whisky barrels since Prohibition to be made from New York State-grown white oak and built by a New York cooperage (US Barrel Company). These two inaugural barrels were filled with bourbon and rye whisky. The bourbon is the first to be matured in New York State oak since the US recognised the spirit as a “distinctive product of the United States” in 1964.

Founded in 2011, Coppersea Distilling is one of the few distilleries in the world capable of bringing nearly the entire whisky-making process in-house. This New York Farm Distillery produces ultra-premium whiskies and eaux de vies from Hudson Valley-sourced corn, rye, barley and fruits using Heritage-Methods distilling traditions ― open wooden fermenters, direct-fired copper-pot stills, sour-mashing and floor-malting.

“From the outset, Coppersea has gone to great lengths to source all of the ingredients in our whiskies from New York State,” remarks Coppersea master distiller  Angus MacDonald. “There is a tendency to place the barrel outside of those considerations, but when you reflect on how much of the flavour of an oak-matured whisky comes from the wood it is aged in, it becomes clear that a truly local whisky must be aged in locally sourced oak.”

US Barrel Company owner and head cooper Bob Hockert says: “We feel that making a high-quality whisky barrel is just as much a craft as making the whisky that goes into it. Our team has been creating slack barrels [which are not designed to hold fluids] for ten years, so we began this project with a good amount of expertise. Tight-barrel cooperage has its own challenges, though. We’ve had to build our own equipment, develop an understanding of whisky distilling, and forge relationships with New York State loggers in order to build barrels that meet the highest standards.”

“At Coppersea, we believe that traditional methods make superior whisky,” adds Coppersea distillery manager Christopher Williams, “and the team at US Barrel Company believes traditional methods make a superior barrel. For example, they source premium New York oak, and then air-season for at least a year. Many large cooperages kiln-dry their wood, but US Barrel Company understands that air-seasoned oak takes on ambient flora and microbes which lend additional depth, complexity and terroir to the whiskies during barrel-aging.”

Wilson Daniels, California, is the exclusive importer of Coppersea Distilling.

18 August 2014 - Felicity Murray The Drinks Report, editor