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Copper & Kings: A Creative Force In The Spirits Industry

November 3, 2020

In mid-September, Constellation Brands acquired full control of Louisville-based craft distiller Copper & Kings for an undisclosed sum, after taking a minority stake in the company in early 2018. Launched by husband-and-wife duo Joe and Lesley Heron in 2014, Copper & Kings has stoked rising interest in American brandy, especially at the higher end of the market. In announcing the purchase, Constellation president and CEO Bill Newlands noted, “American craft brandy is a fast-growing category that resonates with consumers, specifically among whiskey drinkers, and provides an excellent bridge between fine wine and craft Bourbon.”

“We’ve always been entrepreneurs who look at market space versus marketplace, and we’re much more interested in what the next thing might be versus what’s currently ‘in,’” says co-founder Joe Heron. The Herons launched Copper & Kings because they saw a market for brandy in Louisville and across the U.S., especially in the $15-$50 price bracket.

Heron sees the Copper & Kings consumer base as 50% whiskey drinkers. “They gravitate to our brand, as something to explore outside of whisk(e)y, Bourbon, or rye,” he says. “We get the domestic brandy drinker that’s looking to trade up. Of course, we also get the Cognac drinker who’s looking for something different, the general gin drinker aiming to branch out from mainstream brands, and an umbrella of people who are cocktail enthusiasts.” Heron says the typical consumer is between 30-45 years old, and generally educated and affluent. Copper & Kings currently distributes its products across 43 markets in the U.S., and depleted 20,000 cases of brandy last year.

Copper & Kings’ recent brandy releases include Northern Soul Michigan apple brandy, aged in hard cider casks from Michigan cidery Vander Mill, and Way Up West American brandy, aged in Kentucky Bourbon barrels and then American single malt whiskey barrels (both $65 a 750-ml.). The portfolio also includes American Apple brandy ($35), American Craft grape brandy ($35), Butchertown brandy ($55), Floodwall apple brandy ($45), and the unaged Immature brandy ($30), and Heron notes that pear and peach brandies are in development.

The gin portfolio encompasses The History of Lovers; The Moons of Juniper; The Ninth, A Symphony in Orange; and American Dry gin (all $35 a 750-ml.), as well as special releases. “Making gin on an innovative non-neutral spirits platform gave us a differentiated product, rather than just another dry gin using grain neutral spirits as a base,” Heron says. Last year, Copper & Kings depleted more than 5,000 cases of gin, with The History of Lovers rose gin—distilled from a base of apple wine—emerging as the bestseller.

Copper & Kings sits in a dazzling 30,000-square-foot property in Louisville’s Butchertown neighborhood, filling half a city block. The site includes a first-floor distillery, barrel cellar, and—when there’s not a public health crisis—ample space for events such as weddings, gin and tiki festivals, and movie nights. Heron hopes that once a coronavirus vaccine is introduced, operations will start to get back to normal in the industry. “But from a hygiene point of view, people will be extra careful for a long time,” he says, adding that he knows he is leaving Copper & Kings in good hands with Constellation Brands. “Of course, nobody knows anything concrete—we don’t have a crystal ball. First, we have to survive this period.” Market Watch has more on the newest addition to Constellation’s spirits stable.—Jessica Beebe

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