Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu reasoned that if you place an army into a position from "whence there is no escape," there is nothing it may not achieve. When the options are fight or die, the men will fight.
Tucked up against Columbia, South Carolina's Congaree River in an old railroad shipping depot, a one-man army named Richard Baker lives by Sun Tzu's wisdom. His company, Copper Horse Distilling, has been there since 2012, and despite the many difficulties of establishing a distillery, Baker is on the warpath. That's his only option, but it's also his greatest passion.
Baker grew up in Aiken, South Carolina and Augusta, Georgia. He worked for his family's software company, which was sold for a significant profit, and invested his share in the distillery. Despite less than five years in the trade, Baker is a well-trained and gifted distiller. Walk in to Copper Horse and you'll see/smell pepper soaked vodka in one steel vat, red velvet whiskey cream in another, a Hillbilly still running gin, a European-made Kothe still running whiskey, and a brand new 26-foot Vendome column still ready to be erected for the future. 53 and 30-gallon Kelvin Cooperage barrels are racked, full of maturing bourbon that other craft distillers would have already bottled and sold. Baker is waiting patiently for his whiskey to actually mature before releasing it to the bourbon-crazed world (see Steve Ury's 2010 blog post "Most Craft Whiskeys Suck!").
While Richard Baker would prefer to be in production mode every day, he probably spends 90% of his time working on equipment issues, acquiring new oak barrels, marketing, labeling, paperwork, lawyers, taxes, not to mention negotiating the cost of high-quality, local ingredients. He works 90 hours each week, usually alone, doing everything the right way out of a sense of pride and honesty. The most amazing part is that his prices don't necessarily reflect his sweat equity. A bottle of Copper Horse Salted Chocolate Truffle whiskey cream is just $24. The vodka, rum, and barrel aged gin go for between $25 and $35. The bourbon will be in the $40 range. Copper Horse cares about quality, affordability, and brand loyalty.
We sat with Richard for about an hour discussing South Carolina, whiskey, people who make whiskey, barrel aged coffee, money, life, and of course, we drank.
|Tasting room at Copper Horse. Source: thesipologist.com|
Richard was generous with samples of his unreleased wheated bourbon. What we tasted is better than any other South Carolina whiskey currently on the market. When he decides the time is right, Copper Horse bourbon will do very well, because it's carefully constructed, unlike so many new craft bourbons.
It's always a pleasure to meet with people behind the whiskeys on the shelf. Most of them are kind and generous with their time and products. Richard Baker is one of the nicest, but more importantly, his products are (and will be) some of the best in the Palmetto State. Distribution is currently limited to SC and GA, but Copper Horse should be available in FL and NC in the next few years. If you're in the southeast, check it out.