Copper in the Arts

June 2019

HBS Copper: Continuing the Legacy of Handcrafted Copper Stills

By Stacie M. Jones

In 2011, Mike Haney was building stainless steel and copper stills out of his garage. But he couldn't build them fast enough, so the self-taught metal fabricator quit his job at the paper mill and started his own website, and Hillbilly Stills of Barlow, Ky., was born.

Screen-Shot-2019-06-29-at-1.24.27-PM.pngHandcrafted copper still from HBS Copper. 
Photograph courtesy of HBS Copper. 

Today, HBS Copper is the commercial division of Hillbilly Stills in Barlow (population 714). Each of its custom copper kettle stills is handmade, using gleaming, food-grade copper that is thicker than any other copper still on the market, says Haney's son, Matt, vice president of the company.

In addition to copper’s stunning, rose gold beauty, Haney chose the metal  because it is an excellent conductor of heat. A copper kettle heats liquids faster and more evenly, and maintains a precise temperature. That consistency makes the perfect cooking vessel for spirits.

“The even heating helps, but the most important part about copper is that it reacts with vapors and gets rid of unwanted sulfides,” Matt says. “Removing the sulfides improves the flavor of spirits.”

HBS sources most of its copper from Germany, and welds its seams with solid copper rod. Old-fashioned craftsmanship is the cornerstone of the family business, which prompted both father and son to quit their factory jobs eight years ago to focus on what their entire lives had revolved around -- working with metal.

“I was go-kart racing at 9, building stock cars at 15, always riding motorcycles,” Matt says.

It was a short jump to helping his dad, now 60, build stills. Soon, they created the Hillbilly flute, a distillation column that was innovative for its smaller size (4 inches) and affordability.

"Our process is actually very simple," Matt says. "The customer calls or emails us and we nail down what they want. Design begins after the deposit is received.”

For example, they recently created an hourglass-shaped still. The unique kettle runs slower, creating a uniquely flavored, lower proof product.

Since 2014, HBS has been specializing in complete copper stills, accessories and raw copper supplies for serious distillers and hobby distillers.

“We have equipment on every continent but Antarctica,” Matt said.

The array of stills is dizzying, and the website is thorough and detailed, including videos, still photos, testimonials and a pricing guide. Prices can reach $49,000 for a 500-gallon steam jacketed kettle.

The design aspect is what gets Haney excited to come to work every day.

“The customer seeing it for the first time, seeing our work come together, that gets me stoked, ” he said.

The owners of Tumbleweed Spirits Craft Distillery of Osoyoos, B.C, Canada, named their sills “Big Al” and “Ginger.” Al handles vodka and whiskey, while gin comes from Ginger’s petite kettle.

Screen-Shot-2019-06-29-at-1.23.03-PM.pngWelding a custom copper still at HBS Copper.
Photograph courtesy of HBS Copper. 

‘Spirits distilled in copper just taste better’ has become a signature tagline of the company. 

HBS just delivered equipment to Blue Clover Distillery in Scottsdale, Az., Matt said. Another client is Roots and Wings Distillery in Langley, B.C., which recently upgraded from a 30-gallon to a 100-gallon copper kettle still, both from HBS.

But stills are not their only gig. HBS recently built a steeple-sized copper cross for a church.

“We’ll do any sort of metal fabrication,” Matt said.

If people can dream it, he and his dad can make it.

These works of art are destined to last forever.

As Mike Haney says in his company video, “You will give these stills to your grandkids.”

Resources:

HBS Copper, Barlow, KY, (270) 906-9594

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