Coppersea Excelsior Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Excelsior Bourbon is the first 100% New York Bourbon: Made in New York from Hudson Valley grains, and aged in barrels made in NY from New York-harvested American white oak. It is likely the first whisky of any kind aged in New York oak since prohibition, and probably long before that era. We named it for the state motto Excelsior meaning “Ever Upward.”
The nose is initially sweet with loads of cereal and spice. It moves to vanilla and black pepper on the taste. There are notes of pepper, cinnamon, cloves and a hint of green apple. The finish is viscous and sweet. It ends with a long balance of toffee to oak.
Aged: 2+ years
Proof: 96 proof
Barrel: 30-Gallon new charred oak
Mash: 60/30/10 Corn/Rye/Malted Barley
About the Distillery:
Coppersea is in New Paltz, NY. About two hours from NYC. Coppersea sources all their grain from the Hudson Valley. They also grow a portion of the grain they use. But, they don’t have enough just yet to distill only their grain. The grain is malted in-house. This is a labor-intensive process that takes about a week. Malting their own grain allows them more control over the process. The malted grain is kiln dried before its ground and used in the mash.
Coppersea prepares for fermentation by the grains at 145 degrees. This provides the enzymes they developed in their malting process to convert the starch to fermentable sugar. The mash spends about 2 days as wild fermentation until they pitch a beer yeast. The wild yeast provides much of the flavor of the fermentation while the beer yeast does the heavy lifting converting the sugar to ethanol. They have a very long fermentation—5-6 days total per mash. The industry standard is 2-3 days.
To keep with heritage methods an all copper Alembic still over an open flame is used at the distillery. Direct-fired stills can be difficult to control. They often result in a burnt mash. Plus, open flames and alcohol vapors don’t exactly mix. Most distilleries opt for steam or an electric heat source. I asked Christopher Williams the head distiller about the open flame. He compared it to cooking paella in a rice cooker as opposed to a paella pan. Sure, you have a cooked rice dish with either. A paella pan creates a dramatic difference in flavor due to caramelization.
The final step in the whiskey making process is the barrel. Coppersea sources their barrels from Kelvin Cooperage. They developed a cooperage with a partner to make barrels from New York oak. While they used 15-gallon barrels they moved to 30-gallon and traditional 53-gallon barrels. Entry proof plays a role in the flavor development of a whiskey. Higher proof means more ethanol soluble flavor compounds are extracted from the oak. The lower proof allows more of the less known water-soluble compounds to be extracted. Coppersea has one of the lowest entry proofs I’ve seen. They enter the barrel at 101 to 105 proof. Coppersea now has a good supply of 2+ year whiskey. They intend to let some continue to age.
All these factors and attention to the smallest details create a unique product. Coppersea is different. They’re intentionally different. They are producing a distinct regional whiskey. They want to be the funky farmhouse blue cheese of the whiskey world. I have to admit. Based on what I’ve tried I’d say they’ve been successful with this mission so far.