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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

How Bourbon-Barrel Shortages Are Affecting Local Distillers

Posted By on Wed, Aug 19, 2015 at 8:49 AM

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Patrick Garrett of Bourbon & Banter at Planter's House. - STEVE TRUESDELL
  • Steve Truesdell
  • Patrick Garrett of Bourbon & Banter at Planter's House.

Independent Stave Company is a massive global enterprise out of Lebanon, Missouri. Company materials call it the leading cooperage company in the world: It supplies barrels to Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Heaven Hill and many others, and it provides a special "craft distiller series."

But new craft distillers are out of luck. According to its online sales page, the company is currently unable to take any new orders.

And they're not the only ones.

McGinnis Wood Products is a family-owned cooperage (employing some 150 people) that's been making white oak barrels in Cuba, Missouri, since 1968. They may be dwarfed in size by the giant Independent Stave Company, but the McGinnis family prides itself on the quality of their oak barrels, calling them "the finest crafted white-oak bourbon barrels in the world." Though it has been reliably supplying many of the smaller distilleries, it may not be able to take on new customers for the foreseeable future.

Last September the company sent out an email to everyone on its mailing list saying they wouldn't be accepting new customers in 2015.

Ralph Haynes at Pinckney Bend Distillery in New Haven says his company is in good shape, barrel-wise. "We use fifteen-gallon barrels from McGinnis, and we currently only fill about ten per month, so there is no shortage for us."

But, Haynes says, Pinckney Bend would be out of luck if it were looking at larger barrels: "Fifty-three-gallon whiskey barrels are another story, and new ones are tough to come by." Oddly, the larger barrels are almost the same price as the smaller ones — which leads some distilleries to go up a size. That was the case for Square One.

"We started with three-gallon barrels, just for service in our restaurant," Neukomm says. But at $110 for a single-use cask, he had to move to larger barrels, especially as Square One increased production. "We started using ten-gallon barrels from Gibbs Brothers in Arkansas," Neukomm recalls.

Then the Gibbs Brothers Cooperage Co. started having trouble getting Missouri oak.

"The small coopers like Gibbs and McGinnis were having trouble getting wood," Neukomm explains, adding that the biggest coopers were buying most of the wood on the market. Now Neukomm primarily uses fifteen-gallon barrels from McGinnis. "The smaller barrels yielded a deeper, richer color, so we use five-gallon barrels for coloring," Neukomm says. He has a monthly allocation with McGinnis now, and things seem to be going smoothly, but it wasn't always that way.

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