The beat goes on here at our little whiskey company and this was a bit of a seminal week for us. Our Whiskey order is in, our contractor is lined up to start ground works on our Rackhouse and our barrels are on the water. As a non-whiskey related side-note, we also got long listed for the AIB and IRISH TIMES Start-Up Academy which is a kind of business accelerator scheme. The guys over at Blackwater Distillery are on the long list too so we are in good company. If we reach the final there is a pretty significant prize of cash and services, which we could really do with….. But that is not what this post is about, this post is about our barrels which I am becoming increasingly excited about. Let me make clear that there is, believe it or not, a global barrel shortage. The rise of craft distilling in the US, in addition to increase in production here in Ireland means that normally when you call a barrel supplier they will :
A. Either not return your call or
B. Laugh at you and tell you there is a 2 year wait.
I know this because I spent about 6 months doing the rounds in the U.S. and various places trying to wheedle barrels out of people for a decent price to no avail. This is also because if whiskey sales are up the big guys like Pernod, Diageo, Jose Cuervo, will just up their order from 350,000 barrels per annum to 500,000 or whatever. So when I rock up and say, I need 120 barrels this year and 150 next, they are simply not interested. How can I possibly compete? Furthermore, the price of barrels like the price of oil, fluctuates according to supply and demand, so when I started looking they were about €220 per unit not including delivery, they have come down a little since then as Scotland have pared back production recently and thus some additional supply has come onto the market. However at any moment they could spike again… Our whiskey supplier offered to sell us some but I declined as I would did not feel that I would have enough control over choosing them. If I’m making whiskey based on the fact that 80% of its flavour comes from the Barrel its aged in and the place where that barrel is aged, I need to be DAMN sure about my barrels, their exact origins, the grade, the char levels etc. etc. So buying barrels with a supply chain I could not trace 1000% was much less hassle but absolutely NOT an option.
Anyway after going around in circles and in desperation I started to reach out to industry contacts via Facebook of all places and it actually paid off. A friend of a friend of a friend put me in touch with a small supplier in Louisville Kentucky and I got on a plane within a week to meet the man and visit his facility. Tim the Barrel Guy turned out to be some kind of wonderful. He has a really small operation, does not advertise and has a direct line into Jack Daniels, Woodford Reserve and a few other smaller distilleries. He can trace every barrel right down to the exact liquid that was in them prior. I spent a chunk of time with Tim in an effort to learn as much as I could about his operation. Tim has his own cooperage on-site and he sells ONLY Grade A barrels. There are multiple grades of first fill barrels and Grade A are the best. If he gets iffy barrels he reconstitutes them on-site replacing staves etc. to bring it up to Grade. I was really impressed with how he operated and his eye for detail.
Most importantly I trusted the guy he was open and honest and looked me in the eye when we shook hands. Tim is the kind of guy who I hope to be doing business with for years. We are his first Irish customer, and I have passed his info on to a few of the up and coming Irish Distilleries so maybe we wont be the last.
Neither will this be my last post about barrels…….It’s becoming something of an obsession. Thanks to Tim we have our ex-bourbon barrels in the bag for our new fill to rest in for a few years, but I have several other small distilleries and wineries in my sights who will be supplying me with interesting barrels for our whiskey finishing experimentation. Watch this Space.