Kindred Spirits – Elysian & Copperworks
Neither Elysian Brewing nor Copperworks Distilling were in the minds of Dick Cantwell and Jason Parker back in 1991 when they worked together as brewers at the tiny Pike Place Brewery on Western Avenue. The main order of business then was turning out two to three 120-gallon batches a day of Pike Place Pale Ale or XXXXX Stout. Times change, though, and entrepreneurial inclinations come to fruition, and these days they’re working together again, combining the talents they’ve developed over the years, producing all-malt wash at Elysian, the brewery Dick started with his partners in 1996, for fermentation and distillation at Copperworks, the waterfront distillery Jason started just last year with his partner, Micah Nutt.
Every couple of weeks Jason and Micah show up at Elysian’s Airport Way production facility, opening up sacks of Great Western Washington Select Malt and working with Elysian’s brewers to turn it into sugary wash, which they then put into stainless steel totes for the trip back down to Copperworks on Alaskan Way, right around the corner from where the little Pike Place Brewery used to be. The wash is then fermented–using Elysian’s house yeast–and eventually distilled in one of three beautiful Scottish copper stills to make all-malt vodka, gin and whiskey. The quality of the friendship and the working partnership shows, not just in the deliciousness of the spirits, but in the early accolades. On January 1st, Copperworks gin took a gold medal at the 2014 World Beverage Competition in Geneva, Switzerland.
Many distillers produce neutral spirits from a variety of fermentables. It’s fairly unusual, in fact, for barley malt to be the exclusive–and far more expensive–source of fermentable sugar. Jason’s background as a brewer, not only at Pike Place but at Pyramid and Redhook as well, disposed him toward the quality and flavor of the Washington-grown malt used by Copperworks. Jason, Micah and Dick are working together to perfect a recipe for Copperworks whiskey, early batches of which are aging now in Copperworks oak barrels. The three used one of Elysian’s other breweries, at their Tangletown location, to produce a small, 100-gallon batch of unhopped Men’s Room Original Red. The result was a scant 10 gallons of whiskey, which will age as long as it needs to–years, in all likelihood.
In the meantime, as other batches of all three spirits are crafted and aged, Jason and Micah have some ideas for cocktails combining delicious Copperworks gin and vodka with Elysian’s beers. They hosted an open house at their waterfront tasting room a couple of months ago, and plied Elysian’s brewing staff with a version of a pre-Prohibition Bee’s Knees, using Copperworks gin, lemon, honey and Elysian Avatar Jasmine IPA. Look for the Avatar Bee’s Knees and other Elysian/Copperworks beer cocktails at all four Elysian pub locations soon.