We bet you never thought the life of a bourbon barrel would be worth discussing but how times have changed. The life of a bourbon barrel is now a long and exciting adventure. A bourbon barrel spends the first two-plus years of its life imparting rich flavor and color to the bourbon aging inside its charred oaken staves. By law, a barrel can be used just one time to distill bourbon in the US, despite the fact that these well-crafted barrels have a “lifespan” of up to 60 years. This regulation, combined with a renaissance in bourbon popularity, means distilleries and their cooperage partners have a supply of bourbon barrels that are looking for their next calling.
Not to worry, darling little bourbon barrel! In this age of reusing, repurposing, upcycling and fixer-upping, there is an almost endless list of things for you to do in your next life. In fact, a quick internet search for “bourbon barrel” included a result titled “113 cool things to do with used bourbon barrels.”
The patina and charm of the aged oak barrels and hammered metal barrel hoops is the perfect fit for today’s popular rustic farmhouse décor. Whole barrels or barrel components like staves, heads, and hoops can be used for gardening, building furniture, creating personalized household items and other crafts and decorating.
While American bourbon distillers can’t reuse the barrels, other spirits’ makers aren’t limited by the same restrictions. Used bourbon barrels make hearty vessels for distilling other beverages and are used throughout the world to add unique flavor to Scotch, aged rum, and even tequila. And what could be a better vehicle for adding flavor and a good story to craft beer than a charred, bourbon-tinged barrel?
Liquor isn’t the only thing that can benefit from spending time in a used bourbon barrel. Syrups, teas, honey, jams – the list of foodstuffs that can take on new rich flavors and colors when preserved in used bourbon barrels is long and yummy! The pieces of used barrels are chips of smokey goodness that can be used firestarters or to smoke meat and vegetables.
The life journey of a bourbon barrel is never certain, but thankfully they aren’t spending their golden years sitting in a woodpile.