Photo by sashafatcat/Flickr CC
Rick Wasmund is the Doc Brown of distilling: a rogue tinkerer, a mad scientist, the guy working in his basement on crazy inventions no one understands and no one expects to work. Until one day they do.
Wasmund is the owner, and just about the only employee, of the Copper Fox Distillery, a microscopic outfit nestled against the Shenandoah Mountains in Sperryville, Va. The operation was born from Wasmund's dream to create a Scotch-style whiskey in the States (Scotch has to come from Scotland to bear the name). Wasmund is not alone: A half-dozen craft distillers, mostly on the West Coast, are churning out malt whiskeys, and most are faithful versions of their Highland brethren.
But Wasmund didn't just want to recreate a style; he wanted to revolutionize it. Instead of aging the whiskey in barrels, letting the wood flavors seep into the liquor over years and years, Wasmund figured he could get unique results much more quickly--six months--by steeping a teabag of woodchips in the distillate, and that doing so would give him unique control over his whiskey's flavor profile.
Another key part of the Wasmund technique: It's all by hand, and all by him. Wasmund claims to be the only American distiller to roast his own barley, and he is the lead guy, often the only guy, working each step of the whiskey-making process (a few friends chip in, and he has an assistant). Unlike the big distillers, Wasmund doesn't age his whiskeys in a federally bonded warehouse; instead, he has to pay a bond on each barrel individually. In the long run that's more expensive, but the scale of operations he'd need in order to afford a bonded warehouse would mean removing him from much of the distilling action.