Copper Shot Distillery: Sippin' whiskey in the dark with some good ol' boys
I can't imagine what Mike and Steve must have thought of me as they watched me approach Copper Shot Distillery from the safety of their porch. I say "approach," but it was more like slide down a muddy hill.
It started raining on the drive over, my poor wipers straining to keep up with the onslaught. I'm told this kind of rolling deluge is common to central Texas, regardless of season. This is the first time it's rained in my now-week-and-a-half foray into the state, so I'm taking it in like the tourist I am.
Copper Shot Distillery is hidden in a recreated or restored old West village, to the right just as you cross the bridge into downtown Bastrop, TX. The problem with sticking to authenticity is that dirt roads turn to mud in rain.
I park in what I assume is the parking lot, atop a hill overlooking the distillery. It appears that the most direct way down is a quick stumble/slide down the hill. When I get to the bottom, I look up and there's Mike and Steve, co-owners and distillers, chuckling from a dry vantage. They direct me around the side of the building and up a stair entrance.
The building itself is impressive. It looks like something you'd find in the Bayou (not that I've ever been): all weathered gray wood, rusted corrugated roof, raised up on stilts with a a maze of wrap-around patio, gangway and ramps. Once I'm inside and begin to drip-dry -and the boys have had few more good laughs at me- they tell me that the 1890 farmhouse was transported to this spot and reassembled on site. The lengths some will go to in preserving history. Even more authentic: no electricity. That's not on purpose, just a frequent result of these types of storms.
Copper Shot, true to its name, uses two pot stills that would look old-timey too if they weren't so damn shiny clean. Mike and Steve are definitely getting the most out of them, producing up to eight different spirits at any given time. All spirits start from a mash of corn and sugar, the corn arriving at Copper Shot as an already-milled grain.
The 180-gallon fermenter is bubbling and burping carbon dioxide on the day I visit. Luckily, that part of distilling requires no power, just pure biology. A couple samples are waiting for me in the dark of the tasting room-cum-boutique (Steve's wife makes sure there's plenty of jewelry and clothing options available for lady visitors).
Most whiskey distillers' first product is a white dog, moonshine, or some iteration of their spirit unaged. This is so they can introduce the drinking public to their creation without the mediation of time spent in a barrel. Copper Shot is no different. They, in fact, offer three clear spirits: white dog, moonshine and vodka. What's the difference? Very slight, mostly in proof and whether it was run through a column still or not. Steve tells me that all their clear spirits are filtered through oak chips as soon as they come off the still, for a little added flavor.
Copper Shot's white dog is bottled at 120 proof and comes off the still at 160. The notes are solidly of wood and smoke, with just the slightest hint of corn sweetness. The moonshine comes in at 80 proof, which allows more of a grain and corn flavor to come through, than the higher proof white dog. The vodka (run through the column after coming off the pot still) has notes of plum and butter, and almost no bite.
The other spirits are flavored variants of the moonshine: apple pie, peach, pink lemonade, blood orange and amaretto. They are proofed down to 30 and made using juice and sugar. The amaretto is moonshine with macerated almonds and vanilla extract steeped in it. Steve tells me the blood orange is their most popular spirit. It's also the one I like the least, finding it to taste more of bitter rind than anything else. I enjoyed the peach flavor the most. It is tart and tangy, reminding me of white grape juice.
The electricity is back on, machinery starts up and the plastic thimbles are drained to the last sweet drop. I chat with Steve as Mike goes back to dipping bottle necks in wax and labeling. It dawns on me. Listening to how these guys built this place, modify their own equipment (including crafting their first mini still) and make their spirits from scratch, makes me feel less adequate as a man. These guys are pretty much what you'd imagine if someone told you to think up a self-sufficient Texan. If you ask me to hook a hose up to a tank, I just hope the liquid isn't valuable, because it would most likely end up on the floor.
The difference is hammered home when Mike and Steve wish me safe travels from the porch. I begin on unsteady footing back up the hill, until they point out the railroad-tie steps are just on the other side. Well shoot, these Texans have thought of everything now, ain't they?