Interview with Andrew Bailey of Cold Springs Copperworks

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Andrew is the owner of Cold Spring Copperworks (https://www.coldspringscopper.com/shop) in Tennessee.  He is an excellent still builder and copper worker and comes highly recommended by many as an excellent engineer and builder of distillation systems for both the hobbyist and the professional level distiller.

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Andrew, tell us a little about your background and how you initially got into building stills?  Were you a home distiller yourself once upon a time and what kind of training did you have?
I think it all started growing up in the Appalachian Mountains of East Tennessee because even at an early age you hear stories of moonshine and stills up this creek or that hollow.  We are less than a mile “as the crow flies” from Cherokee National Forest and even as a kid roaming the hills you would find old still sites and it always fascinated me.  Both of my Great Grandfathers worked with Law enforcement during prohibition and on both sides I had relatives making or buying moonshine at the same time, so I always heard stories and saw some of the pictures of them with stills and seized liquor.  I guess that sparked my interest in it all.
I have always had a passion for fabricating, machining and welding, I went into mechanical engineering but always had a passion for fabrication so I always welded and fabricated in my spare time.  I worked at a company that made large pressure vessels and filtration systems and always enjoyed working with with tanks, flow and design of systems,  I messed around and built a few stills here and there and of course had to test them out.  As the years progressed I decided to build a fabrication shop just as a hobby.  I was approached by Stephen Callahan who was opening his own distillery about building some equipment.  In a short time what was a hobby went to a full time job for myself and some of my family as well.  Its really great to be able to work doing what you enjoy, while embracing your heritage and helping keep an art alive.
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Tell us about your crew, you got a few good guys to help you with all that copper porn?
I am blessed with great help!!!   My son Zane, my father and sister all help.  Occasionally we bring in some others during the busy season.
Zane has been working with me for about 1 1/2 years, he trained for about a year with me on welding copper.  Copper is tricky to weld and it takes a lot of practice even for a seasoned welder.  He is now doing a lot of the welding and starting to work on the fabrication and design and has really been crucial to me and the business.
My father is the woodworker, he makes the paddles and mallets and other items we produce.  He is a true craftsman and 3rd generation woodworker.  He helps us do some fabrication and keeps us in line.  My sister helps us in many ways, she helps us clean and test the stills and helps us with our office work.  We’re small and growing quickly and hope to keep growing and continue be in the distilling industry and help advance the craft.
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Tell us a little about where your source your copper and how you decided on the source?
Quality, purity and thickness, those were the main things we were looking for in copper.  We chose Revere brand copper.  Their copper works was founded in 1801 and continues today as Revere Copper Products and they are one of Americas oldest companies, so we know we are getting the best there is.
We buy in bulk to keep costs reasonable as we wanted to build a still our way, even for the home distiller, heavy gauge copper and quality materials.  Even for our decorative parts we use Revere brand, it doesnt tarnish as easy and works very easily, which says a lot about its purity, so when we build a still, we know its the best copper out there.  Thicker copper isnt something you can go to a supply house and get.  Another reason is, we TIG weld all we can on our stills and equipment, its a better option than solder and it lasts longer.
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What are some of the most common questions you get about your stills?  Any misconceptions about stills out there you’d like to clear up?
We get asked a lot about why our piping is so much bigger than some other builders especially on the smaller stills.  In our designs we dont like to “force” the alcohol vapor through smaller tubes, the larger piping seems to mellow the distilled spirit and make a cleaner finished product.
Another we get asked a lot is how much alcohol a run will yield.  This is always one that theres no perfect answer to unless you have a good mature recipe thats been proven.  Starting ABV of the wash, volume, final proof, cuts and many other variables make this hard to determine when someone has never made any before.
Two misconceptions are that stills are only used for making drinking spirits and that its illegal to own one.  Stills have a variety of uses, water purification and sanitation, essential oils, fuel alcohol and many others.  Thats why in most cases its not illegal to own a still, they serve many legal purposes, we always encourage everyone to your research their local, state and federal regulations but there are many legitimate reasons for you to own a still legally.
The biggest misconception I feel is that a still is a highly volatile and dangerous device.  Yes there is flammable alcohol and vapor that demands your full attention, but in the end there are MANY other appliances in your home that are more dangerous when misused or improperly used.  Never leave a still unattended and double check everything and pay attention use common sense, and have a properly built still to reduce the risks.
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Tell us a little about safety running your stills and some of the built in features your models have.
We always either have a slip on head, slip joint or a pressure relief port or sometimes a combination of them.  If something is plugged the pressure needs somewhere to go.  There should never be any substantial pressure inline so if there is it can safely vent off.
We also are doing more and more electric units for distilleries and hobbyists.  This takes the flame out of the equation and decreases the risk of fire in case of spillage or alcohol vapor buildup.
Another thing we do is keep our piping and flow paths as open and smooth as possible.  Larger pipes, smoother bends and less restrictive flow paths make a smoother running and safer still and better final product.
Any cool new designs in the works for stills?  Any other copper paraphernalia on the drawing board such as Donna Jugs, Founts, Theives, Parrots, Boiler Tubs?
Were working on some new thumper and doubler designs to make them more modular and more efficient.  We are starting to produce some low pressure steam heated units and starting to get into continuous stills.  We are also working on making condensers more efficient, bringing cooling water use down which equals savings for the distilleries and easier on the environment.
We are always coming up with better parrot designs that we build in house and were really proud of our whiskey thieves, they are all over the world, Europe, Ireland, Scotland, Australia and even some at a distillery in Norway above the Arctic Circle as well as all over the USA.
I have been working on a boiler tub that will be hand made like the original ones.  I always have loved the old hand crafted copper goods and am starting to experiment in reproducing them like they were originally made.
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Alright, last one, what is your go to drink either commercial or homemade or both (brand or type)?
I really prefer a good Bourbon.   Buffalo Trace is my staple, but there are some amazing Bourbons out there.  Garrison Brothers really makes a Bourbon that I am really fond of, its a good bit more pricey, but it really hits all the notes I like in a good drink.
A really good clean homemade corn liquor is something I enjoy as well.  When you get some from a true craftsman that takes pride in what they make, there is no substitute.  There are some locals here that have been doing it for generations and passed down the recipes and methods, and it truly is incredible.  Its those few that are keeping the craft alive and it is really a privilege to be able to have a drink of what true Appalachian Moonshine was and still is.  Its because of these old timers passing on their knowledge and skills that the next generation will be able to experience something authentic and unique to each craftsman.
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One thought on “Interview with Andrew Bailey of Cold Springs Copperworks

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  1. Amazing craftsmanship, combined with class leading customer service, and sensible pricing, from a small family run business – pretty much sums up Andrew and his business. Kudos!.

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