Glassroom: The Q&A blog series with whisky distillers

Copperworks Distillery: Jason Parker

9 Jul, 2020

Here at Copperworks, we try to be as transparent as possible. We publish every recipe for every batch on our website. We feel that if folks want to copy us, they best do it right.

Can you give us a bit of background about yourself and how you started in the whiskey industry?

I was a craft brewer starting back in 1989, and opened a number of breweries (Pike Brewing, Fishtail Ales, and Pyramid). After brewing for many years, then 10 years in IT, I wanted to start making real high-quality spirits with the best ingredients.

We incorporated in 2011, and developed the recipes to open to the public in 2013. I had been a homebrewer in Kentucky for many years before heading out to Washington. I studied in England to learn how to make craft ale beer. I got out of brewing because the brewing industry was consolidating. In 2000, the industry wasn’t healthy, so I moved into IT.

In 2008, it became legal to distill in Washington State, so I thought that is really interesting and I dove into that. We did not want to open with a tiny scrappy place, so we went full throttle into this place, but may still have to build another in the future.

Can you tell us about your distillery,
and what makes it unique?

One of the most important things when a distillery opens is what makes it different. We wanted to make whiskey, but not the whiskey everyone else was making. We weren’t going to make Bourbon, because that has already been done. The Scots make traditional product, the Irish make traditional product, the Japanese make traditional product and that is all great. We, however, wanted to make something different, so we started off making a high-quality beer and distill that into a really different whiskey.

Two big decisions that we made were to not make a brewery, but to partner with good breweries and have them make the mash. We make our beer at three different breweries and use brewer’s yeast, not distillery yeast. Secondly, we rejected the idea of buying a single artisan still that is more versatile, but not specifically designed for each product. Instead, We had our four stills made at Forsythe.

One other thing we try to do here is to be mentors to other prospective distillers trying to make their way into the business. We will take someone who is really serious about distilling and have them work with us at the distillery for a week to learn the ins & outs and the mechanics of what it takes to run a company like this and to make spirits.

Are there any little ‘distilling’ secrets you can let us in on?

Here at Copperworks, we try to be as transparent as possible. We publish every recipe for every batch on our website. We feel that if folks want to copy us, they best do it right.

Whiskey has been phenomenally successful
in the United States and around the planet,
why do you think this is compared to other spirits?

It is a temporary phenomenon, so there will be a dip again. It has 30-40 year cycles. Bourbon is being over-produced so that in 5 or 6 years, it will be difficult to give it away.

American whiskey will have its moment in the sun, but that too will die, and then it just may be Brandy that becomes the next big thing. Bourbon is pricing itself out to most consumers, but brandy is very affordable. It has a deep, sexy romantic past that consumers will be attracted to. That said, we have no intention to produce brandy, Just to drink it!

In your years in the industry, what have been the biggest surprises you have faced?

Here is one of the biggest surprises for me personally, I was very surprised how creative ownership could be. I was also surprised how the industry was blindsided over the years making legislation that actually left things wide open for new distillers to create so many new categories or so many new spirits, that it is a new renaissance in distilling.

We have so many new opportunities in front of us.

What are the big trends that are affecting the whiskey industry at the moment?

In Japan, the trend is to drink it in Highballs as opposed to neat like is frequently done here in America. I see the trend going away from using small barrels (thankfully) and towards using a variety of barrels for finishing.

The other factors that contribute to flavour, and that we are actively pursuing are local malts, and using different yeast strains.

The rapid maturation processes are interesting, but I would caution against putting anything out on the market before it is ready. We’re not interested in trying any rapid maturation processes.

Are there any interesting stories from your time in the whiskey industry that you could share?

One thing that I have really enjoyed in that the whiskey industry is super collaborative and have an attitude of “we are all in this together”.

It was great to find that there is room in this for all of us. They all feel that equal to their own success is the success of the industry on the whole.

What developments in the whiskey industry most excite you?

The concept of terroir. Selecting ingredients based on farm, variety, and vintage , and essentially treating grain like grapes, will give us endless ways to express variation in whiskey.

What do you see as being the future of whiskey in the short term?

Skyrocketing opportunities for anyone making something different and of quality. Whiskey has lots of opportunity for exploration.

Why do you use the Glencairn Glass in your business and what makes it so special?

I bought my first glasses for my own personal collection back in 2008.

I recognized that I couldn’t get the aromas & flavors from any other glass. So when we opened our tasting room, we needed a glass that would really showcase our spirits. In fact, our first order of Glencairn glasses came over from Scotland on the same barge as our stills!

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