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Williamsburg’s ten-day Harvest Celebration concluded over the weekend, but Saturday served as an opportunity to celebrate beginnings for Copper Fox Distillery and Edwards Virginia Smokehouse.
Copper Fox hosted Virginia’s Grateful Spirits event at its distillery on Capitol Landing Road Saturday to commemorate the opening of their new malting room. The event also promoted and celebrated Edwards Virginia Smokehouse, whose facility in Surry was destroyed by a fire in January.
“I knew of their fire and was happy to be associated with them because they have a tremendous pedigree,” said Copper Fox Master Distiller Rick Wasmund about Edwards Virginia Smokehouse. “We’re happy to come together with them. It’s a new space for us and a new beginning for them.”
Sam Edwards III is president of the Smokehouse that his grandfather founded in 1926. S. Wallace Edwards was captain of the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry at the time, and he began serving ham sandwiches to hungry passengers. Soon, he opened his own smokehouse in Surry using family recipes for cured ham that date back to the 1600s.
“As tourists came so did ferry traffic, and so did sales of ham sandwiches,” said Edwards. “I was honored to be invited by Rick for the grand opening [of his malt room]. He’s doing what he can to help keep Edwards alive.”
Edwards said that his smokehouse still had product on store shelves, despite the fact that his operation had been shut down since the January fire.
“The great thing about country ham is that it has a long shelf life,” Edwards said.
The company has partnered with friends across the industry and the country to produce and sell Edwards products that are similar -- but not identical -- in taste to the products made in their smokehouse, until they are able to rebuild. Edwards said he does not have a timetable as he’s locked in an insurance dispute, but hopes to clear legal hurdles by Thanksgiving.
Jason Alley is the owner and Executive Chef of two restaurants in Richmond, one named Pasture and the other named Comfort. Alley set up a table in the malt room Saturday and served one of his specialties, deviled country ham rillettes, which are made with Edwards bone-in country ham.
“I’ve been using Edwards products for a really long time,” Alley said. “It was an easy connection and thing to say ‘yes’ to. It was important to get the word out that Edwards is still open for business.”
Roughly 200 people came to Wasmund’s distillery Saturday to enjoy Copper Fox whisky, food provided by Edwards and other Virginia caterers, and live music from the band Good Shot Judy.
Local residents Jessica Hodges and Emilly Wiggans were in attendance, and as the party wound to a close they relaxed at an outdoor table and enjoyed a crisp fall evening.
“Neither of us had been here before and it was a great way to try something new,” said Wiggans.
Attendees were treated to the unveiling of the malt room, which was preceded by speeches from Wasmund and Edwards and a blessing by Reverends Tyler Montgomery and Joshua Stephens of Bruton Parish Episcopal Church.
As incense hung in the air and the blessing was read, guests received their first look at the room, which contained a center floor covered in barley. Wasmund said that he expects the distillery will be able to malt three tons of barley -- or enough to produce roughly 90 cases of whisky -- every other day in the malt room.
“We soak the barley in a tank and then it goes to the malting room,” said Wasmund. “The temperature control and the moisture trigger the seeds into the germination process…but that’s getting too technical -- we’re just making great whisky.”