The Spirit of Kentucky: Big demand exists for bourbon barrels

Herald-Leader staffJune 9, 2013 


    This is the first in a four-part series, The Spirit of Kentucky, looking at the state's bourbon industry.

    Through the remainder of 2013, about once every other month, the Herald-Leader will explore a different facet of one of Kentucky's most well-known, important and fastest-growing industries.

    Future installments will delve into the marketing and selling of bourbon, the lifestyle that has sprung up around the drink, and the industry's future. Also look for occasional features in print and online exploring the drink.

    Find all the coverage collected online at

LOUISVILLE — Another sign of the boom in bourbon and American whiskey: increased demand for barrels.

Brown-Forman, maker of Woodford Reserve bourbon and Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, requires so many barrels to age its spirits that it has its own cooperage in Louisville.

The factory makes more than 600,000 barrels a year — about 2,800 a day in two nine-hour shifts — "and it isn't enough," said Darren Whitmer, cooperage operations manager. In 2014, a new cooperage will open in Decatur, Ala.

About 85 percent of the barrels Brown-Forman makes in Louisville go to Lynchburg, Tenn., for Jack Daniel's, whose black-label "Old No. 7" is the largest-selling whiskey in the world.

Even the modern, mechanized process for making a barrel requires tremendous hands-on skill. A good cooper can make 250 a day.

Watch the barrel-making process in action in our photo gallery and video. And watch a video of the history of Brown-Forman's cooperage.

Read, see more pieces from special coverage of Kentucky's growing bourbon industry

The Spirit of Kentucky: Bourbon is having a renaissance, and the Bluegrass is at its roots

The Spirit of Kentucky: To make bourbon, distillers must harness the elements

Photo galleries: See inside some of Kentucky's best-known distilleries, meet the master distillers

Videos: See how bourbon barrels are made

Janet Patton:, (859) 231-3264. Twitter: @janetpattonhl. Charles Bertram:, (859) 231-3200.

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