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FAQs Speyside Bourbon Cooperage

Why do you make a distinction between bourbon and other kinds of spirits?

We produce bourbon barrels exclusively. In order for a product to be called “bourbon” it must be made to a specific recipe which includes 51% corn.  Most importantly the final product must be stored for at least two years in a 53 gallon, new charred white oak barrel. The barrel must be made of Oak; our barrels are made of American White Oak.

A typical whiskey barrel usually holds approximately 200 liters (roughly 53 gallons) of liquid.  A barrel is typically 21” x 36” and 26” in circumference. In addition to the 31-33 staves, a barrel is held together with six steel hoops and twelve rivets.  The rivets are embossed with an initial (ours is “S”) which stands for Speyside.  This is how you can tell which cooperage manufactured the barrel.

What does raising a barrel mean?

This is how a barrel is actually “made”.  It is still done by hand and requires great visual skill and dexterity.  The craftsman assembles the 31-33 staves needed to make a barrel into a temporary ring that holds the barrel in place.  He or she makes sure the staves are evenly distributed so that the barrel will be tight and leak proof once it has been assembled. This is the first time the staves have been placed in an upright position—hence the barrel is “raised”.

The barrel is then sent to be steamed.  This is how the barrel is primed to get its curve.  Once the wood has been bent into shape a second temporary ring is added.  The barrel is then sent to be heated where it is curved into the shape of the barrel.  The barrel is then toasted (which creates the sweet and caramel flavor profile of bourbon) and then the barrel is sent to be charred.

What does charred mean and why do you do it?

Charring a barrel allows the alcohol to penetrate the oak and absorb the flavor of the wood.  In the United States it is illegal to age bourbon in anything other than American oak barrels that have been charred (burned/toasted) on the inside. This not only improves the flavor but produces deeper color, spice and viscosity of the bourbon.

If bourbon barrels can only be used once, what happens to them?

Bourbon has to be put into a new charred oak barrel for aging. Once the barrel is emptied, it's not good for aging bourbon. After processing, barrels remain saturated with up to ten gallons of bourbon, though 2–3 is the norm However, it can still be useful for aging other spirits.  Used barrels are sold to distilleries in Scotland, Canada, Ireland, Mexico, and the Caribbean for aging other spirits. Bourbon barrels have also become popular for aging certain types of microbrew (particularly stouts) barbecue sauce, wine, hot sauce and maple syrup.  (Source: Wikipedia)

Who invented bourbon?

That's a good question, but it's only got a vague answer. Elijah Craig is generally credited as the "inventor" of bourbon for coming up with the innovation of aging corn whiskey in a charred oak barrel in 1789.

But historical facts to support this story are hard to come by. There were many corn whiskey distilleries in Kentucky prior to 1789, and in truth Craig was probably just one of many distillers who helped transform fiery, unaged corn moonshine into what we now know as bourbon. (Source:  Mental Floss)

Can we buy a new barrel from you?

Right now we are unable to sell new barrels to individuals, but are hoping to have the opportunity to do so in the future.

Are You Hiring?

When we hire for certain positions, we will announce job openings on the employment section of this website, as well as the Facebook page for each facility.  Jobs may be posted in appropriate newspaper and online resources in each location. 

Do you sell used barrels?

Speyside has an operation in Shepdsville, KY that purchases used barrels to refurbish and sell. Please visit http://speysidecooperageky.com for more information

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