What’s in a barrel?
THE MARKED SIDE (AKA “THE MONEY SIDE”)
There are two lids per whiskey barrel. Each lid , or “head” is made of white oak slats that are held together by the pressure of the liquid inside the barrel – no glue is used. The stamped lid is called the “money end.” The stamp is a way for the distiller to keep track of whats in the barrel, when it barreled and where it is stored.
For example, “DSP-KY-230” means “Kentucky distiller permit #230, which is the number assigned to Jim Beam. #44 is Maker’s Mark, #50 is Peerless, #52 is Woodford. All are assigned their number in the order of application — so the lower the number, the older the distillery.
D-160 means it was distilled at 160 proof. ”C04 L03” indicates that it was distilled at the C plant in 2004 (C=place, 04=year) on December 3rd. (A=January, B=February, C=March, etc.)
THE CHARRED SIDE
The rules are pretty strict for whiskey that has the honor of becoming bourbon – all that can go in is grain, water, and yeast, and they must be aged in a new white oak barrel.
In order to give whiskey its deep caramel color and rich smokey flavor notes, distilleries lightly “toast” the barrels to caramelize any natural sugar in the wood and then burn the ever living heck out of it for 6-12 seconds to give it a good char. The barrel heads themselves are often charred longer – for 90 seconds or so.
Naturally, the charred side of your barrel head did its part to make a delicious batch of Kentucky’s liquid gold.
THE STAVES (SLATS)
There’s no glue used in the production of whiskey barrel heads – only holes, dowels, and a bit of parafin wax around the outside to help the seal. The entire barrel coopering process is done the same way it always has – entirely by hand.
Solid craftsmanship eliminates the need for adhesive, which could touch the whiskey and interfere with the flavor. The way the wood slats fit together also allow them to expand and contract comfortably as the whiskey ages over the years.
For those who would like a cleanly engraved barrel head for formal events, wedding guest books, or simply because you prefer the look, we offer “resurfacing,” which is the planing down of the barrel head’s worn surface.
By default, we plane down the charred side so the reverse of your barrel head still has the mark in tact. This also removes any remnant bits of char that may flake and come of the barrel. Resurfacing the charred side is the way to go for wedding guestbooks and the like, but let us know if you’d rather have the marked side resurfaced, leaving the charred side in tact.
STAIN & FINISH
Once your barrel head is engraved, we’re happy to add on one final piece of customization with our finish options. We offer light to dark shades of stain in addition to our gloss option, which preserves and highlights the natural color of the wood.
If you are thinking of purchasing a wedding guest book, we recommend finishing your barrel head at home after the big event so your guests’ messages will be better preserved.
Without finish, resurfaced barrel heads will look (and smell) like fresh wood, and unresurfaced barrel heads will include scratches, markings, and any other wear it may have earned while doing its time in the distillery.