Friday, February 10, 2012

Where To Get Used Whiskey Barrels.

Several micro-brewers make bourbon barrel stout or employ used bourbon barrels in other ways. Bourbon Barrel Foods, in Louisville, ages soy sauce and other products in them. A cigar company in Kentucky ages its tobacco in them.

Let's say you need used bourbon barrels for something, how can you get them?

The obvious place to go is the big bourbon distilleries. They empty hundreds of barrels daily, for which they have no further use. They just want them gone.

But because they need to get rid of so many, they can't really deal with somebody who just needs one, or a dozen, or even a hundred of them. They need to deal with somebody who will take all of them.

The companies that make new barrels are called cooperages but so are the companies that deal in used barrels. The two main makers of new barrels are Brown-Forman Cooperage and Independent Stave Company (ISC). ISC does not deal in used barrels, but Brown-Forman does.

For more about the ways used barrels are re-used, go here.

There are other, much smaller companies in Kentucky that also call themselves cooperages. They may make a few new barrels, or resell new barrels acquired from ISC, but mostly they deal in used barrels that they buy in large quantities from the distilleries.

One such company is Kelvin Cooperage, They’re located on the far south side of Louisville. Kentucky Barrels and Bardstown Bourbon Barrels are two similar companies. There used to be many of these little companies that bought used barrels from the distilleries, broke them down, and sold them to Scotland and elsewhere. Or they cut them up and sold them as planters. There don't seem to be as many of them as there used to be.

What used barrels are best? It depends on what you want the barrel to do for you. A lot of breweries use Pappy Van Winkle barrels because that’s such a highly-regarded bourbon, but it’s also very old – 15 to 23 years. Whiskey takes things out of the wood, it doesn’t leave much behind.

If you want wood extractives, then you want barrels used for very young bourbon. Several distilleries (Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Heaven Hill) sell a lot of 2-year-old bourbon to Australia, for use in bourbon-and-cola and bourbon-and-ginger-ale pre-mixes, which are very popular there. Those barrels still have lots of the original sugars, tannins and other substances in them.

If, on the other hand, you want barrels whose extractives have mostly been depleted, then you want barrels from very well-aged bourbons, like Pappy, Elijah Craig 18, or the BT Antiques.

Happily, since all used barrels have the name of the distillery and when they were filled written on the barrel head, you always know what you’re getting with used barrels.

Non-distiller producers (NDPs) typically receive the whiskey they buy in barrels, which they dump at their facility. Just like a distillery, an NDP has no further use for those barrels. Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD) and Bardstown Barrel Selections are two such companies. Both are in Bardstown.

Another source is micro-distilleries. They tend to use small barrels – 5, 10, 15, and 30 gallon – rather than the 53 gallon barrels the big guys all use. There are micro-distilleries all over the country now. Only a few make bourbon or rye whiskey, but those that do usually  need to dispose of used barrels. They don’t have long-term relationships established with resellers, so they sell catch as catch can. They also tend to make young whiskey, so their used barrels still have lots of goodies left in them.

Some micro-distilleries sell their used barrels in their gift shop.

The prices for used barrels fluctuate due to changing demand. Demand has been good lately. To the distilleries, a used 53 gallon barrel brings about $85. You can expect to pay a lot more unless you're buying thousands of them.

A couple of decades ago, when demand was low, distilleries were giving used barrels away, even one at a time, to anyone who showed up with a truck. Not any more.


M Lange said...

Another source for used barrels is Tom Griffin, known as "The Barrel Guy" in craft beer circles. He buys up large lots of barrels from Bourbon distilleries then delivers them to craft breweries all over the country. His biggest client is Goose Island who uses them for their Bourbon County Stout:

Mike Dski said...

I second that comment. Tom has been a member of M.H.T.G. from its start and was the go to guy for barrels for many of the craft brewers .

Anonymous said...

I live in WI and I was curious if Tom ever sells barrels to homebrewers. I would be willing to pick up, just dont have a way to get in touch with him. Would anyone be wililng to share info at

Vlad D. said...

I'm not sure I understand: how do Pappy Van Winkle barrels, for instance, come into existence in the first place? If the bourbon itself is only a mixture of bourbons made at Buffalo Trace, Stitzel-Weller, and Bernheim.

Chuck Cowdery said...

A Pappy barrel is any barrel in which whiskey that was bottled as Pappy was aged, regardless of which distillery made it.

Vlad D. said...

Thanks, Chuck.
So in other words, it's not a "Pappy barrel" at all, but rather Buffalo Trace or Bernheim and so forth?

paige dooley said...

I live in Ky. So where can I buy just one used used barrel?

Chuck Cowdery said...

My best suggestion is still Kelvin Cooperage, on Outer Loop, south of Louisville.

Todd Hull said...

Kelvin had none last summer - and said they would not for some time. Seemed rather unwilling to offer any advice or assistance either.

Chuck Cowdery said...

If you are in the Louisville area, drive down to Kelvin, and take a look at their lot. The inside of the building looks the same way, i.e., used barrels everywhere. Then let them tell you they don't have any.

Andrea Mashburn said...

I have used Licorusa in the past, they sell new 25 and 53 gallon barrels and also have a variety of barrels to offer. I don't have their number but I guess uncle Google can give that info away! haha

Anonymous said...

I agree, the guys at Licorusa are the best kept secret in the industry (oops not anymore I guess) just bought 420 gorgeous ex bourbons! Great service and price too, still had plenty of juoce inside. Will use them again and again and again and again etc

Anonymous said...

My daughter is getting married next fall, she is sticking to a tight budget,and I wanted to know if there was any place you could suggest that might want to get rid of some old beat up barrels? We were going to use them as tables in her back yard wedding.

Chuck Cowdery said...

I always suggest Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville, because I know they have hundreds of thousands of old barrels they'll never use, but they don't seem to be responsive to inquiries.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Everybody reading this, please note the date of the original post (2012) as well as the dates of comments. This is a very dynamic industry at the moment and a lot changes from year to year. Today, your best bet for used barrels probably is to deal directly with the nearest micro-distillery.

Giovanni DeVenturi said...

Jack has barrels for $112 at their gift shop. They carry a Jack Daniels burned in brand as with a branding iron.

Does anybody know where I can get just the heads?

Anonymous said...

I have had great success with Speyside Cooperage

Anonymous said...

I just did a search for a wine maker friend because we travel to Lexington several times a year and found that Buffalo Trace markets their used barrels through Lexington Container Company in/near Nicholasville. A little pricey at $199. They have a web site also. My friend decided it was too much to spend so I guess we won't be heading there this trip but they have a lot of cool containers of all kinds. Btw, I did contact Kelvin and they did respond back to me immediately. They were $160 for a freshly emptied barrel but $80 to ship to MO! I didn't want to go that far out of my way to have to pick it up.

Guy Sing said...

Jim Beam used to sell them when I lived there in 2006. Cost was $35

Chuck Cowdery said...

Two points:

(1) At this time, the best place to get used barrels, especially one-offs or small quantities, is probably your nearest craft distillery. If they don't have any to sell you they probably will know who does.

(2) I'm sorry so many people have had trouble with a certain online barrel vendor (one not recommended nor even mentioned by me), but the purpose of this blog is not to provide a platform for that sort of complaint. Therefore, I will not approve any more comments that mention or allude to that company.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Last month, when I made the comment above, I should have reviewed all of the comments and removed every mention of the companies people are complaining about. That oversight has been corrected.

I'm sorry people have had bad experiences with certain used barrel vendors, but I can't allow this blog to become the used barrel complaint department.

In light of these reports, however, I urge anyone who is looking for used barrels--or anything else--to thoroughly research the vendor, especially if you found them on the internet. I might take a chance on an unknown vendor for something cheap, but barrels are not cheap. Buyer Beware, okay?

I still say your best bet for used barrels is to think about who might be selling some near you, so you can pick it or them up and avoid the crazy shipping costs. Check out craft distilleries and craft breweries. Also check out liquor stores, which sometimes get barrels for displays but dispose of them eventually. Ask around. In person is best.

If you continue to come up empty, maybe that means this is a great business opportunity.

Finally, thanks for reading. It's apparent that a lot of people who are searching for barrels online are winding up here. I hope this has been helpful.