Weekly Feature

2007-12-19 / Business

Williamsville native gives whiskey a twist


Several factors ushered Williamsville native Rick Wasmund into the whiskey business. Chief among them were his love of fireplaces and the smells of various burning woods, as well as a desire to change his career path.

"I was looking for something new to do because I had been selling insurance for 15 years," Wasmund said. "So I went to all the distilleries in the United States and started fooling around with numbers and business plans to see if it could be done."

As it turns out, it could.

After a trip to Scotland to visit distilleries and to intern at Bowmore Distillery on the Inner Hebridean Island of Islay, Wasmund returned to Virginia, where he had moved after graduating from college, and began working on his business.

Wasmund and Copper Fox Distillery Enterprises, LLC has its home in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Sperryville, Va.

The first run of Wasmund's Single Malt Whiskey began in January 2006.

What makes Wasmund's a unique whiskey, according to its creator, is that it is smoked with fruitwoods, such as apple wood and cherry wood, rather than the traditional Scottish peat, which changes the flavor of the drink.

"The Scottish use peat to make their whiskey because that's their available fuel source," Wasmund said. "Our available fuel source in Virginia is apple trees."

Wasmund's distillery is also the only one in the United States that malts its own barley, which is grown by nearby Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, he said.

Wasmund found his first market in nearby Washington, D.C. Currently, the whiskey is being sold in 14 states, including Western New York, where it was introduced in October. "We're now in 20-plus stores from Lockport to Olean," the Williamsville North graduate said. "To go in a store here and see my bottle nicely displayed - if I'm in the right mood - it brings a tear to my eye."

Wasmund noted that his small business has little money for advertising, which leaves the majority of promotion to him as he goes to various liquor stores and bars with samples and holds tastings for prospective consumers.

"The best thing about coming to Western New York is that I'm among friends," he said, "I want (the whiskey) to be successful here just so I can keep coming back."

As far as the future goes, Wasmund hopes to grow the business to sell about 10,000 cases a year, which would allow him to keep control over the quality while still maintaining a profit.

"I want to stay small enough to keep the focus," he said.

e-mail: etaufa@beenews.com

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