I’m not sure how I managed to miss reviewing this one, so to make up for lost time…
Copper Fox is a pot stilled rye from Rick Wasmund, whose Wasmund’s Single Malt I did manage to review. The rye is made from a mash of two-thirds Virginia-grown rye and one-third malted barley. The grains are floor-malted and then lightly smoked with 60% applewood and 40% cherrywood. The mash is then double pot distilled and barreled with a “progressive series of lightly toasted new and used applewood and oak chips” in refill ex-bourbon barrels. Imagine getting that one past the SWA in Scotland. After awhile the whiskey is decanted into a second refill bourbon barrel to finish aging. This is presumably done to avoid getting too many off-flavors from the wood chips, which have a lot of exposed end grain that aging whiskey normally doesn’t encounter. (See why.)
All of this is bottled at 45% ABV without chill filtration and retails for around 45 bucks. My bottle is from batch 130.
Let’s talk a moment about fruitwood. Fruitwood smoke is a fickle mistress… too much and it becomes acrid and cloying. Not enough and it is vague and fleeting. One thinks that cherrywood will imparts flavors of cherries, and applewood flavors of apples, but the truth is far more complex and (frankly) a little disappointing. This doesn’t matter as much when used in food preparation, since food tends to have many dominant flavors that won’t be overwhelmed by smoke (unless there’s really too much). Whiskey, on the other hand, tends to amplify any dominant flavors… which is why peated single malts are so distinctive. That flavor better be spot-on, or it’s the only thing you’ll taste.
Nose: The fruitwood smoke is unmistakable. It is both fascinating and unsettling. The aroma of applewood smoke is very familiar, but the intensity of it dominates the whiskey. Think fireplace ash and cigarette butts mixed with dried apple rings and cider pomace. A rest in the glass and repeated nosings help to diminish the ashy qualities, but the overall impression is still “burned apple pie”.
Palate: Thin body. That same flavor of toasted applewood chips and smoke dominate the flavor. The rye is a distant third place. There is also some charcoal bitterness and a hint of cherry jam.
Finish: Long. Guess what? Apple smoke! There’s also a distinct nutty flavor that evolves midway through the finish, like toasted hazelnuts. This evolves further into toasted coffee beans and cacao nibs. The finish persists for quite a while, but is led by that overbearing applewood smoke.
With Water: A few drops of water pick up the nose tickle, but don’t change the aroma. The palate seems thinner and maybe a bit more acrid. The finish seems a touch sweeter, with a bit of fresh apple. Try this both without and with water.
Overall: I really want to enjoy this, but for me the negative aspects of fruitwood smoke (the acridity, in particular) outweigh the positives. If I want a spirit that tastes like apples, I find a quality Calvados to be superior. If I want a spirit that is redolent of smoke, I find a good peated single malt to be superior. Alas, I cannot recommend this unless you are already a fan of fruitwood smoke and willing to overlook the acridity.
I would be more interested in something like this if its flavors drew on applewood in the barrel without smoking the grains, or perhaps from finishing in apple brandy casks. Or both. As is, I can’t recommend it.
Lastly, don’t assume that you can drown the remainder of an unwanted bottle in cocktails. I tried to make a whiskey sour (I like funky ryes in my whiskey sours) and it just tasted like someone put out a cigarette in my hard lemonade. Blech.
Interesting how different our takes are, given how often I agree with your reviews. I’m about halfway through a bottle of Copper Fox Rye and have been thoroughly enjoying it! I guess I like fruitwood smoke. I knew what to expect since I frequently smoke meats with applewood or cherrywood. I’m planning to visit the distillery as soon as they open up for tours again. Glad to have Copper Fox in my backyard!