One of the first things people may notice about Copper Cannon Distillery Co-Owner and Louisiana native Blake Amacker is his warm southern accent. The next may be his clever turn of phrase — something he packed along with the rest of his belongings when he moved north for employment in New Hampshire’s aerospace industry a few years back. For example, when asked to illustrate the challenges of operating a distillery built from scratch, he says: “I’m either working or driving home from work — and I’m driving a Civic, not a Ferrari.”
Amacker, who also serves as distiller at the West Chesterfield operation, hops into that vehicle daily and heads to the Copper Cannon Distillery, which he opened in a barn just off of Route 9 with his cousin and Co-Owner Chris Arnold in January of 2018. Built using key elements from the historic Bardwell Farm barn that once stood on the border of Keene and Swanzey, it is both new and directly connected to the history of the region.
“If you’re from this area, you’ll know that barn was one of the most photographed and painted barns around,” Amacker says. “A lot of people from the Keene area are very familiar with it.”
Step inside and discover a rustic, distinctly authentic facility. The tasting room features a 15-foot-long bar and a display of the varied spirits crafted on-site, all overseen by a pair of paintings depicting two men in vaguely Civil War era uniforms. A closer look reveals the subjects to be founders Amacker and Arnold in a mish-mash of military fashion cherry-picked “from about eight different periods — it’s ridiculous,” Amacker says, laughing.
Sharp-eyed visitors will notice local elements from top to bottom, including red baseboard and wide beams that make up the main structure, all of it topped by air handlers and a cupola repurposed from the Bardwell Farm. “We recycled as much as we could from other facilities,” Amacker says.
Before there could be construction, renovation and reclamation, however, there needed to be inspiration — an important ingredient that happened to show itself about 3,000 miles from where the distillery now stands. “I took a trip to Ireland with my cousin about 10 years ago,” Amacker says. “We visited a few distilleries, I was living 1,500-plus miles from Louisiana and I had all this free time. I began tinkering away on my own still, initially, then we registered with the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau). Then we bought a still. I really enjoyed it,” he says. “I enjoy processes and the science of it, and it all just fit. Plus I liked drinking the finished product.”
Together, Amacker and Arnold (with the help of a team of family and friends) have crafted an array of spirits that include a series of popular rums with some distinctly local influence. Copper Cannon’s bestseller currently is its Maple Rum. Made from molasses-based fermentation, it’s double-distilled and carbon-filtered. “It’s lightly sweetened with the maple syrup,” Amacker says. “We do a few other things to make the maple pop.” And then falling back on his knack for just the right phrase: “It’s New Hampshire jungle juice. It’s awesome.”
Amacker and his team also craft a Chip Aged Rum, which offers flavors similar to tequila; a Bar- rel Aged Rum, aged in new oak barrels at 120 proof with vanilla notes and characteristics reminiscent of whiskey; a Pumpkin Spiced Rum, featuring real pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice; and Potato Vodka made with potatoes from Maple Row Farm in nearby Shelburne Falls, Mass.
The creativity doesn’t end there, however. Copper Cannon produces a maple syrup that’s locally sourced and aged in rum barrels for up to nine months, and in the future expect to see a potato-based gin (London-style with additional citrus flavors) and a bourbon.
“The most rewarding thing is not only seeing people enjoy what we have in our craft distillery, but having repeat customers,” the 38-year-old distiller says. “If someone comes in once and really likes it, that’s great. But we have a decent amount of repeat customers who come in and buy things. It’s rewarding to know you’ve created something.”
From Celebrate NH Magazine.