The Life of a Barrel

By / Photography By Dan Weise | November 29, 2017
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How a barrel is made and used.

1. A white oak tree grows in the heart of the Missouri Ozarks. 

2. The tree is harvested, then transported to Independent Staves cooperage in Lebanon, Missouri, where it is cut into staves. The staves are then aged outdoors for up to one year before they are transferred to a hot room to dry. A cooper hammers hoops around the dry staves to form barrels. 

3. Each barrel is charred by the cooperage according to the destination distillery’s proprietary recipe. For bourbon, this can mean a “#4 alligator char” in which the inside of the barrel is fired until deeply blackened, shiny and cracked (like alligator skin).

4. Some barrels travel 1,168 miles to Laird and Company Distillery and Importer in Scobeyville, New Jersey. This is America’s oldest licensed distillery and it is still family owned. (Issued in 1780, Laird’s distilling license is, in fact, license #1.) 

5. In Scobeyville, the charred new oak barrel is filled  with bourbon—actually, it’s filled with raw corn spirit. After three to four years, the fiery, clear distillate has mellowed into golden bourbon whiskey that bears that spirit’s signature vanilla and caramel flavors gleaned from years of interaction with the charred wood.

6. At Laird’s, the barrel is emptied of bourbon, which is then bottled for sale. Now, Laird’s fills the bourbon-infused oak barrel with clear apple distillate—which emerges in three to 12 years as Laird’s signature apple brandy. 

7. The barrel is then sent 76 miles to Captain Lawrence Brewing Company in Elmsford, New York, where it is filled with beer by brewer Scott Vaccaro. The barrel imparts all of its past experience—Ozark forest, alligator char, bourbon, apple brandy—to Vaccaro’s special reserve American Tripel beer, Golden Delicious.

8. The barrel is finally returned outdoors, where it is repurposed for the remainder of its useable life as furniture in Captain Lawrence’s beer garden.

Laird and Company Distillery and Importer 
Captain Lawrence Brewing Company | @captlawrence

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