Bourbon is often one of the first, if not the very first, whiskey a craft distillery strives to get on the shelf. That wasn’t the case at Virginia’s Copper Fox Distillery, which has focused since its founding in 2005 on producing the whiskeys owner and distiller Rick Wasmund likes best: rye and single malt. Limiting their production to those two whiskey styles didn’t constrained their portfolio, as seen in unique variations like Peachwood Single Malt and Sassy Rye. It took a decade before Rick came around to the idea of making bourbon, and now here it is, Copper Fox Dawson’s Reserve Bourbon Whisky (spelled the old-timey way).
Malt smoked with local Virginia fruitwood has been a hallmark of the distillery’s various whiskeys, and this bourbon is no exception. It’s a wheated mashbill of 60% corn, 20% wheat, and 20% hand malted barley, specifically the peachwood smoked barley used in their Peachwood Single Malt. It was aged in new oak barrels for over four years. The bourbon is named for Billy Dawson, a Virginia farmer who passed away in 2017 and whose feed and grain company has supplied Copper Fox with its malt for the last 15 years.
From the get-go, there’s no denying this is a Copper Fox product. That familiar fruitwood smoke in the malt saturates the nose with notes of dried apples and pears, sweet and spiced. The smoke itself isn’t overbearing, laced with a generous helping of brown sugar and chewy caramel. Even though it spends the most time in barrel of any Copper Fox whisky (and is their only whiskey to age in new charred oak), the wood notes are subdued into alternating hints of pencil shavings and pecan shells. The smoke is a bit overbearing at first on the palate, but give this one time in the glass and the drier notes of matchheads and tea leaves grow gradually sweeter into orchard fruit, baking spice, and syrupy caramel sauce, accented with just a touch of char, like a well-cooked edge of pie crust or fruit cobbler. For such an unusual bourbon, it’s surprisingly balanced, and the pot distillation makes for a rich and rounded mouthfeel that hangs heavy on the palate until relenting somewhat on the finish. The final curtain call is a unique mix of smoke, spiced pears, and crunchy chocolate chip cookies. Nicely done for a first attempt at America’s native spirit and unlike any other bourbon you are likely to come across.
A- / $50 / copperfoxdistillery.com