This Kentucky Distillery Is Blasting David Bowie Songs to Flavor Its Brandy

Joe Heron of Louisville's Copper & Kings distillery says that “happy brandy makes happy drinking,” and believes that the gentle vibrations of music assist in the aging process for his craft spirits. He draws the line at Katy Perry, though.

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Jul 24 2015, 3:20pm

Nestled between brandy barrels at the Copper & Kings distillery in Louisville, Kentucky, is something completely unexpected: subwoofers.

When owner Joe Heron pushes the door open into the underground cellar, I can feel their effects—the pulse, pulse, pulse in the air, consistently produced by the bassline. Music plays 24/7; it's a rotating playlist curated and planned eclectically. Some days it's based on musicians' birthdays, while on others the playlist is picked based on a new market that the brand has broken into. "Did you know there is such a thing as Houston hip hop?" Heron asks me, referencing their recent venture into Texas.

They celebrate holidays: On July 4, Springsteen, Hendrix, Kravitz, and Bowie rounded out a medley of independence-themed songs queued to get the aging all-American spirits in a patriotic mood. And on other days it's just based on the distillers' tastes—anything from My Morning Jacket to death metal to jazz.

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It doesn't matter as long as it has that pulse, pulse, pulse. They draw the line at Katy Perry, though.

It's all a part of Heron's "sonic aging" method.

Heron says that "happy brandy makes happy drinking," and believes that the gentle vibrations of the music assist in the aging process for his craft spirits, absinthe, and brandy. By pushing frequencies inside the barrel, liquid constantly circulates, causing more surface contact with the oak barrels. Unlike bourbon, which moves in and out of the oak due to changes in temperature, his nuanced indie brandy calls for finesse and tender coaxing.

"I don't really call them vibrations," Heron says, lightly touching the top of a barrel that has been painted bright orange, one of around 1,300 in the cellar. "It's a very romantic process. It's more of a caress."

As we begin to move further in among the barrels—a subtle fruity, oaky scent moving with us—Heron gives me the brandy basics. Brandy is a distilled wine, which Copper & Kings has made from apples and grapes since its inception in 2014. American brandy made from distilled grape wine must be aged in oak for a minimum of two years—during which time the brandy barrels are rolled and exposed to the sonic aging—otherwise the un-aged spirit is called "immature" brandy. This aging process with brandy is a delicate one. Heron describes aging brandy as "promiscuous," in that it will take on whatever flavors surround it.

"Grain spirits you have to really punch into shape," Heron said. "Brandy you coax, which explains a bit behind the sonic aging process. The sonic aging process is actually really integral to who we are as a company as well; Copper and Kings is meant to sound like a band, like the Kings of Leon."

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Obviously, music plays a big part in Heron's vision for the company; for example, when we first walk in on the distillation floor—one level up from the partially underground cellar—Heron points down the line of bright copper pot-stills, two large ones and a more petite version.

"This is Sara, this is Magdalena, and this is Isis.They are all named after women in Bob Dylan's songs," he said. "This smaller one is Sara, named after Bob Dylan's prettiest wife."

But in listening to Heron talk, you can tell that the interwoven music references are not just a way to generate hype—it's truly a part of the distillery's culture and, perhaps more importantly, their craft.

Back underground, Heron and I sidle in between the racks holding the aging barrels. He urges me to keep moving toward the subwoofer at the end of the stretch while he stands back, hand on the volume. With a nod, Heron turns it up all the way, allowing me to experience what the brandy feels during its sonic aging—and it is intense. My heart rate increases, pounding out of time with the vibrations from the bass. I place my hand on a barrel. It has that pulse, pulse, pulse.

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"One of my absolute best feelings was walking down the stairs, seeing the guys rolling the barrels, and hearing The Doors' 'Roadhouse Blues,'" Heron says when he turns the volume back down again.

He continues: "You know, 'Let it roll, baby, let it roll. That's when I knew this was what it was all about-- that, for me, this is the best business in the world.'"

Want to hear what the brandy barrels listened to on July 4th? Check out the playlist here.