By Debbie Shocair
Let’s just start by coming out with it: this is my all-time favorite whisky. I have written about it before, but it has been several years since the last time around.
Since then, each successive batch has embodied a wondrous evolution of skill and flavor. I have, through recent years, delved into batches 14, 36, 86, and 112, and enjoyed more beyond those, including a couple of custom-aged bottles. As Rick Wasmund and the Copper Fox distillery are now up to batch 119, it seemed a fine time to catch up.
Rick Wasmund has been described in some places as a “legend in distilling.” Always enamored of the distilled amber nectar, he interned at the Bowmore Distillery, where he learned how they floor-malt the barley and smoke it with peat. He then returned home to the US with the dream of making a uniquely American single malt, and he has done so in spectacular fashion at the Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville Virginia.
The barley used for this gem was developed by Virginia Tech, and is floor-malted just as it’s done back in Scotland, but then Wasmund smokes it with select American apple and cherry woods, in very small batches, one barrel at a time. No chill filtering retains the best of flavors, and it’s bottled at a hefty 96 proof.
On the front label the batch number is noted, and on the back label, the length of barrelling. Batch 119 says it’s 17 months old. No, that isn’t a typo; I’ve had some bottles that were even younger. Not only is that like microwave-time in Whiskeydom, but it’s also a testimony to Wasmund’s skill that he produces a young whisky with such depth and complexity.
On the nose, Wasmund’s Single Malt is at first all smoke and little else. It’s one of the only whiskys I recommend you allow to sit for a few minutes before nosing it again. Once you do that, you find smokiness, along with sweet milk chocolate and caramel, hay, and an wonderfully unique earthiness.
Break the WSM with a half teaspoon of water, and the smokiness joins hand with the underlying earthy notes to give an aroma like a forest floor.
The mouthfeel is much like you would expect from a 96 proof whisky, mostly apparent under the tip of the tongue.
The finish, well, it’s really the finish that knocks your socks off. Wasmund’s Single Malt’s finish is a literal ten-minute cascade of flavors. It begins strong and smoky, followed by sweet, and then back to smoky. The smokiness clings to the roof of the mouth but gives way to a creamy, vanilla sweetness before going back again to smoky. As it fades, the finish is strongly reminiscent of the great outdoors, almost like standing in a field of grain beside a big red barn.
Perhaps my description seems a bit imaginative, but I earnestly suggest whisky lovers to find a bottle and see for yourself. It is certainly, without question, the most interesting whisky I’ve ever tasted. It is a sentimental favorite for me, but most assuredly it holds first place in my objective opinion about whisky because it is deserving of that place. Each time I’ve had the pleasure of sharing this one, there followed a ten minute discussion about its unique delights.
With very limited distribution, Wasmund’s Single Malt is most easily acquired online, via the Copper Fox distillery’s web page, for around $50.