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    In Butchertown, if you so happen to look to the sky, you will see a stunning flash of orange some four stories high proclaiming that the Copper and Kings Distillery has arrived. The building on East Washington Street that houses this new brandy operation measures 35,000 square feet, plus an adjacent 20,000-square-foot courtyard. The idea has been in the making since its founders, Joe and Lesley Heron, first came to Louisville in 2002.

    The Herons — he gregarious and full of ideas, she smart and soft-spoken — have had a marriage of entrepreneurial kinship. Originally from South Africa, the two have that wonderful conversational shorthand one finds in couples working together. Although they have lived in the U.K., Sweden and Minnesota, Copper and Kings is the couple’s third business venture created in Louisville (Louisville’s bourbon heritage and local beverage-devising company Flavorman drew them to town). In 2002 the Herons developed Nutri Soda, which they sold to PepsiAmerica in 2004. Next up was Crispin Cider, selling its first bottle of the fizzy alcoholic apple drink in 2008. Joe, 52, and Lesley, 47, who live in the Highlands near Cherokee Park, say they look for a vacant space in the market, something (e.g., hard cider) you won’t find easily in the store, something that allows for little or no competition. They say their trick is discovering a product that is familiar but at the same time novel.

    In February 2012 the couple sold Crispin to MillerCoors, and soon after, Lesley started investigating brandy, taking distilling courses and looking for a home for the brand that would become Copper and Kings — copper referring to the copper pot stills that took more than a year to make by Vendome Copper and Brass Works, a Butchertown company that has been building custom distillation equipment for more than 100 years. Copper and Kings sources wine from vineyards across the country, then distills it and either bottles it immediately (an alternative to gin or vodka) or lets it age in oak barrels (new or that once contained bourbon) for three to six years. Copper and Kings brandy has been available in town for more than a month and will soon be in Tennessee, Illinois and Wisconsin. “It’s about Kentucky, and more than that, Louisville,” Joe says. “In making brandy, we felt that the product had enough of a bourbon heritage to make its home in the Bluegrass State — but it is new and modern and stylish, just like this town.”

    For renovation, the Herons went with local architect Ted Payne. The building, which originally housed the Kentucky Seed Co., was in serious disrepair but, as they say, had good bones. Even better, it had a basement with, Joe says, room for 750 barrels and the “perfect arid environment” for aging fine brandy. “We wanted it to be industrial, like a Nine Inch Nails album, but we knew that it had to function as a distillery,” Joe says. The Herons and Payne wanted the building to be graphic and command attention. The offices are open and airy and share space with an art gallery displaying rock ’n’ roll photography. A patio with fire and water features will host concerts. The rooftop, which offers a spectacular view of downtown, sports a sleek “apartment” that can be rented out for special occasions. Tables are made of wood from the building’s original flooring.

    The Herons hired locally. “We wanted to build a Louisville rock ’n’ roll band,” Joe says. “This town has a marvelous blend of both community and commerce, has a genuine interest in spirits and music, and we wanted to reflect that in every aspect of who we hired. The only difference between a band and a brand is the ‘r.’” That orange-and-black logo, a breath of jazz in its rounded edges, is the work of graphic artist Ron Jasin. (The orange is a nod to aged brandy’s hue.) His designs grace the building, bottles and boxes, website and T-shirts. For every cocktail created with the brandy, Jasin has to have a corresponding design. “I was intimidated by the scope of the project,” Jasin says, “but I could see that all of us were looking at things in the same way. Joe gave me a soundtrack to inspire me, with Nick Cave, Wilco, the Black Keys, Van Morrison and the Modern Jazz Quartet, and that became the starting point and the basis for the overall design.” Responsible for the cocktail program is marketing manager Krista Kemple, who has brought together a group of Louisville bartenders (from Rye, St. Charles Exchange and Proof on Main) to concoct cocktails in four categories: indies, covers, classics, and jazz.

    Head distiller Brandon O’Daniel and his assistant, Alan Bishop, have deep roots in Kentucky distillation. From Lexington and Pekin, Indiana, respectively, both are from families with generations of distilling experience. But not in a Brown-Forman kind of way; more like an outlaw-moonshine aesthetic. O’Daniel says his great-grandfather’s moonshine still is the stuff of legend. When confiscated, O’Daniel says his great-grandfather’s operation was said to be the largest in all of Kentucky. “Brandy is like a woman,” Joe says. “She will reject you if you are too rough, and these men have just the right touch.” Both distillers scoured the country from coast to coast, tasting, buying and blending brandy until they created the profile they were looking for. The team is also responsible for the “immature” brandy (i.e., immediately bottled) made from Muscat, Chenin Blanc and Colombard. Copper and Kings calls it “Kentucky Pisco,” after the unaged Argentinian brandy. “Imagine,” Joe says, “if we did this much work on the outside — the home, the bottle, the brand — how good the product must be on the inside.”

    Written by Jon Lee Cope. Images courtesy of Ted Tarquinio

    This article appears in the September issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here

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