Bourbon Industry

The Spirit of Kentucky: Big demand exists for bourbon barrels

STEP 3: The barrels then get their trial by fire: 22 seconds of flame to give the wood a medium char (special whiskies get a little something different). All of bourbon's color and much of its flavor and aroma come from the wood. "It's really an ingredient," said Whitmer, the Brown-Forman cooperage operations manager. "The rest is just corn." When barrels are fired they are equipped with heavy-duty rings that can withstand the flames. Those are replaced down the line.
STEP 3: The barrels then get their trial by fire: 22 seconds of flame to give the wood a medium char (special whiskies get a little something different). All of bourbon's color and much of its flavor and aroma come from the wood. "It's really an ingredient," said Whitmer, the Brown-Forman cooperage operations manager. "The rest is just corn." When barrels are fired they are equipped with heavy-duty rings that can withstand the flames. Those are replaced down the line. Herald-Leader

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

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