(All photos are via Brian Shekleton (c) 2016)
The booming craft distillery industry in the Twin Cities continues to expand with a new whiskey-specializing distillery and cocktail room expected to debut in St. Louis Park this winter.
Copperwing Distillery is the product of an unusual ownership group: a doctor, a lawyer and a former engineer. Three years ago, the trio of friends – longtime avid whiskey consumers – watched as the microdistillery movement began to build momentum in Minneapolis.
If others can do it, they thought, why not us?
Thus the self-taught mission was born.
“Being enthusiasts, we thought we’d see what it takes to make whiskey,” said Chris Palmisano, who has a background in electrical engineering and patent law, and who owns Copperwing along with Brian Idelkope (an MD) and Kyle Kettering (a former engineer and the company’s first full-time employee).
“We started experimenting.”
Last year, Copperwing received its distilling license and the serious business began with bourbon production.
But of course, being a whiskey-specializing distillery comes with its challenges, namely that whiskeys have to age much longer than other spirits.
“There is a lot of time involved,” Palmisano said. “You don’t know what the final flavor profile is going to be. You just take what you’ve learned from others and you use quality products going in and hope that’s enough to create some really good whiskeys.”
(From left to right, Palmisano, Kettering and Idelkope.)
At the planned opening of the distillery and 50-seat tap room in February, Palmisano and Co. aim to offer a very young brown spirit – technically called a whiskey distilled from bourbon mash since bourbons need to age for at least two years to carry the name. They have a rye and a 100 percent corn whiskey in the works as well. And Palmisano, Idelkope and Kettering will meddle in other spirits too – they’re offering a vodka at their debut and are currently tinkering with a gin and a brandy created from the grapes of Warehouse Winery, which shares their building at 6409 Cambridge St. The corn is grown locally, on a farm in St. Michael and the wood for the barrels is all Minnesota oak, created by Atlas Barrel in Watertown, Palmisano said.
“There’s certainly a pressure to do something really interesting and unique, but we’re going to really focus on making good, quality whiskeys – we’re not going to get too fancy, too whimsical,” Palmisano said. “Classic whiskeys, that’s really our bread and butter.”
Copperwing will, however, get a little more creative in the cocktail room, where the company has enlisted the help of Jason Westplate of Big Watt Beverage Co. and Five Watt Coffee. Palmisano, Idelkope and Kettering are also currently completing the formulas for a handful of vermouths and other specialty liqueurs to use for the mixology.
As for the name?
“We wanted to come up with something that combined the industrial aspects of distilling with the more natural, organic side of things,” Palmisano said.
“Copper” represents the former; “wing,” the latter.
“We’re taking something natural – it’s really just grain and water,” Palmisano said, “and doing something very unnatural to it.”