The Lifecycle of a Barrel

Working in the Spirits and Beer/Cider departments of K&L not only allows me to enjoy some of my favorite beverages in the world, but I also get to be a part of some pretty cool things. For instance, recently I was able to be part of the life cycle of a whiskey barrel here at K&L. It probably comes as no surprise that as a larger but still private company we have our fingers in many different pies. Furthermore, we have the ability, and desire, to utilize our resources and connections to partner with local businesses to create interesting and unique products for people. That is precisely what happens with the many whisky barrels we collect here as part of our single barrel whiskey program.

Due to the nature of American whiskey, barrels are only utilized once for whiskey and from there they go on to other places for other purposes. Many of them end up in Scotland because Scotch does not require new oak, others are given to breweries to satiate the growing demand for barrel aged beer. For the larger breweries, buying barrels is just part of the process and they are able to handle that without issue. However, for many of the smaller breweries, buying a barrel represents a major capital investment that they may not see a return on for months. That being the case, often these breweries just go without or try to scoop up second fill barrels that wont deliver quite as much.

Here is where we can make a difference and connect with people and businesses within our community. As many of you know we have a strong single barrel whiskey program here at K&L. We seem to constantly have various Russell's, Four Roses, Dickel, and Knob Creek exclusive bottlings on the shelf. What some may not know is that these bottlings come with the barrel. It makes sense when you think about the fact that the distilleries cannot reuse those barrels for whiskey. So when we buy the single barrel, the barrel itself comes included. Now we may not be able to reuse these barrels ourselves, but we do happen to know a few different small breweries here in our that could use a barrel to age beer in.

Recently I was able to be part of this life cycle and see first hand how we reuse, recycle, and connect with those in our community. I drove up to Sebastapol with our Beer Buyer Jim Boyce and my coworker Stephanie Vidales to pick up a barrel from Spirit Works. We had bought a single barrel of Rye from them last year and they had been holding on to it for us. After a fantastic lunch at Woodfour brewing, litterally across the parking lot, we went and spent about two hours chatting distillation with Timo and Lauren. Full disclosure: it was more me pestering them with questions and running around breathlessly. After that we strapped the barrel to the bed of Jim's truck and headed to see our friends at Henhouse Brewing. 

Once we were happily ensconced and sipping delicious brews at Henhouse, their owner, Collin, came out and we got to chatting about beer. We explained what we had been doing that day and it turned out he had a beer coming in that he had collaborated with Drake's on and was thinking about aging it further in another barrel. Jim looked at him and simply asked if he would like to use our barrel. He got so excited and asked if we were serious, so we took him to the parking lot and showed him the barrel waiting to be used. So he grabbed a dolly and we loaded it up and returned inside for a last pint. In a year or so we will likely be seeing the results of this trip with a K&L exclusive bottling.

-Andrew Stevens

Andrew Stevens