It’s hard to go very far in Louisville, Kentucky without ending up at a distillery or a bourbon bar. Bourbon is huge in the Bluegrass State, especially in Louisville. While bourbon certainly varies dramatically from brand to brand, one thing remains consistent: all bourbon is aged in barrels.
The barrel that a bourbon is aged in and the char on that wood play a tremendous role in what that spirit tastes like when it hits your local shop or favorite bar. When it comes to Brown-Foreman’s brands like Woodford Reserve, Jack Daniel’s, and Old Forrester, that wood is so important that the company contracts it’s own barrels by hand for aging.
Brown-Foreman founded its Cooperage, the place where it makes its barrels, in 1945. It’s currently one of the only spirits companies in the world that makes its own barrels, allowing it to control the entire process of creating its line of products from start to finish in a way that no other distiller can.
The barrels are all made from American white oak and are assembled on-site at the Louisville Cooperage where they’re also charred on site to precisely what Brown-Foreman needs and wants to get the perfect flavor profile for its various brands. The barrel-making process involves a lot of machinery, for sure, but the barrels are assembled mostly by hand. At least 1,500 barrels are made in the facility every single day.
The company recently invited me to Kentucky for a few days to check out the barrel-making process first hand (and to try a new bourbon it’s released in honor of those who make the barrels, “Cooper’s Craft”).
Curious what it looks like to make a barrel from scratch? Check out the gallery above for a behind-the-scenes look art the process.
1 of 26
Piles of white oak, drying in the sun outside of Brown-Foreman's Cooperage. All of the bourbon barrels start here.
2 of 26
Once it's done drying, wood is brought inside and cut.
3 of 26
The wood is all cut to the same length, but individual planks in a barrel can be various widths.
4 of 26
Piles of barrel tops and bottoms waiting to be added.
5 of 26
6 of 26
7 of 26
8 of 26
9 of 26
10 of 26