Three scientists—Chris Palmisano, Brian Idelkope, and Kyle Kettering—are spreading their wings with the opening of Copperwing Distillery in St. Louis Park. Kettering studied mechanical engineering; Palmisano studied electrical engineering before attending law school; and Idelkope studied genetics, cell biology, and development, before becoming a physician.
Palmisano and Idelkope met each other as neighbors in South Minneapolis, bonding over their mutual fondness of whiskey. Their scientific curiosity got their gears turning, and soon they decided to endeavor down the entrepreneurial path to distilling, an industry almost entirely unfamiliar to them.
Kettering soon joined the team and brought with him his set of mechanical engineering skills. Those skills, especially when combined with his years of homebrewing experience, were uniquely helpful in building a custom still for what would become Copperwing Distillery.
For Kettering, it took six months of research and prototyping to wrap his head around building the stills; he eventually fashioned their first two prototyping stills out of copper pipes. “Most of this was an idea on paper, then we bought the stuff and put it together, and learned how to distill by experimenting, and refining the process,” Kettering explains. Palmisano elaborates: “We were a couple engineers with a problem in front of us, so we did what engineers do, and figured out a solution!” Since then, they have upgraded to two professionally designed 1,000-liter stills.
For many of Copperwing’s products, their distillation involves two separate rounds of processing. The first round uses a pot still head, which is the “quick and dirty distillation method.” A sophisticated column still functions for the second round to more finely tune the product’s flavor characteristics and alcohol content.
At Copperwing, that process is a little different than that of major distillers. “A lot of distilleries do weird filtration stuff where they cold filter and try to take out what we think are some of the essential parts, like the oils and the finer particulate matter that’s inherent in the product,” Palmisano explains. “We fully intend to leave it in.”
Leaving those elements in is part of what makes Copperwing’s whiskey so smooth, the men say—a note their taste testers and focus groups consistently make, too.
The cocktail room, located in an industrial area of St. Louis Park, is set to make a grand opening March 11. Due to each founder’s curiosity and desire to explore new ideas, most of these plans revolve around learning—and teaching—new things about craft spirits. As the trio continue learning from talented distillers across the country, they want to share that newfound knowledge with consumers.
True to the craft brand, Kettering, Palmisano, and Idelkope also strive to keep their operation as local as possible. In fact, the distillers have been sourcing corn from a farm in St. Michael.
Copperwing will release quite an array of spirits to start off, with bottled products available for purchase at the cocktail room and in area liquor stores in the following weeks and months. There will be a vodka, a light aged whiskey, a whiskey made from a bourbon mash, and a “vodsky,” which Palmisano describes as a vodka-like product that’s sweeter, smoother, and more nuanced than a traditional vodka. A gin will be coming soon, with hopes of the spirit being in the cocktail room by summertime. Each spirit is distilled to be approachable, smooth, and flavorful.
Idelkope says the sky’s the limit when it comes to what other spirits they might produce in the future. “At this point, it’s wide open, and there’s no limit to what we could do.”
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Photos by Kevin Kramer, The Growler
Distillers: Chris Palmisano, Brian Idelkope, and Kyle Kettering
Spirits: Light Aged Whiskey, Vodka, Whiskey Distilled from Bourbon Mash, Vodsky
Visit: 6409 Cambridge St, St. Louis Park, Minnesota
Hours: Wednesday-Friday 4pm-12am, Saturday 2pm-12am