Much like Kentucky-distilled jewel Pappy Van Winkle bourbon, Rick Wasmund’s Sperryville whiskey is best enjoyed neat, accompanied by a full-bodied, hand rolled Padrón. Wasmund’s Copper Fox Distillery creations are so in demand, in fact, that plans are being made to open a second manufacturing facility in Williamsburg.
Rick is under contract with the city to buy the former Lord Paget Hotel. “We’ve been working really hard to find ways to revitalize that part of town,” said Williamsburg economic development director Michele DeWitt, in an interview with Inside Business: The Hampton Roads Business Journal.
“That part used to be one of the two main entrances to the city . . . We’ve had plenty of prospects, but nobody really got to the finish line until Copper Fox.”
Rick, ever-charming and charismatic, tells me he “showed up at the council meeting with my beautiful wife Chelsea and our 3½-year-old daughter Camille, and talked of bringing our world-class whisky to Williamsburg. So I asked them, what’s not to love?”
If all goes well with the special-use permit requirement and the mandatory 120-day study period, Rick anticipates hiring and pumping gobs of money into the $600,000, six-acre property ($1 million to $1.5 million, according to Inside Business). The plans call for production of 80,000 cases in the first five or six years —- he produces 11,000 now in Sperryville — and also include a retail store and tasting room.
The facility will be closer to his barley supplier and will be a complementary location to his Sperryville operation. Williamsburg is a national destination and enjoys considerable traffic. Rick is quick to point out however, that his Sperryville operation is slated for continued growth.
What is the secret to Rick’s success? First and foremost, he’s a visionary, entrepreneurial and enjoys bucking time-honored traditions. He malts barley with apple wood and cherry wood smoke. “No one has done that before,” he said with a smile.
He is a whisky maestro. Indeed, he studied with Scottish masters on the isles. Further bucked traditions are his quick aging methods, which initially found him, in respected enthusiast circles, wildly controversial. There is now only the sound of crickets in those circles.
He opened Copper Fox in 2005 in the old apple packing shed across from Copper Fox Antiques, a building with cavernous ceilings that is perfectly attuned to housing huge kilns and Rick’s heavy, solid wooden exterior and interior doors — which he himself carved.
Upon entering, one is met with the intoxicating smell of barley. Aromas of sweet liquids waft into the room from saturated oak barrels. Sprouted grain lies drying in kilns, waiting to be smoked with apple and cherry wood for flavor. Adding to the ambiance, oak barrels are stacked in the barrel room, charred inside to add flavor.
Tours — 10 to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 to 6 p.m. Sundays — have morphed over time from sniffings to legal tastings and product purchases. For $7 one can now enjoy three, 3.5-ounce pours of VirGin, single malt or rye.
“Sometimes,” Rick mentioned, with his trademark smile, “sometimes that is a difficult choice.”