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Issue 61 - Roll out the barrel

Whisky Magazine Issue 61
January 2007

 

This article is 7 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Roll out the barrel

The Blue Grass Cooperage is one of the major barrel making companies in the United States, Rob Allanson took a tour

Opening the door to the work floor and you get hit with this wall of noise and a great smell of oak.

The Blue Grass cooperage is an exceptionally busy place churning out high quality American white oak barrels which end up filled with Woodford Reserve and Jack Daniels among other spirits.

The 185 employees turn out an average of 1,650 barrels a day in two shifts, this means that some 400,000 barrels leave the site in Louisville, Kentucky each year.

It is a pretty stunning sight so see the various cuts of oak fashioned into barrels, accompanied by the soundtrack of clanging hammers, pistons and electric circular saws.

American oak has long been the staple material for bourbon barrels, Neil McElroy, operations manager, explains why: “It is a tight grained hardwood with unique characteristics that make it suitable for maturing bourbon in.

“Logs are quarter sawn rather than flat sawn to produce staves with the proper orientation of the growth rings and grain to give maximum strength and leak resistance.

“White oak also contains a substance called tyloses that naturally blocks the sap conducting pores of the wood, adding to its water tight qualities.” The tour takes you through the five main important areas of barrel making, from the iron loops to final inspection.

Despite the vast amounts of machinery, at each stage of the process there is a human making the decisions, and these chaps are proud of their product.

One little secret to look out for next time you are ...

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