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The Second Life of Bourbon Barrels

The Second Life of Bourbon Barrels

Everyone from brewers to furniture designers are finding a use for these used barrels

Bourbon is now popular around the globe, and so too are the barrels that it’s made in. Thanks to the spirit’s official rules, which state that the whiskey must be aged in new American oak, there is a thriving secondary market for these traditional containers. Here are some of our favorite ways that they are reused.

From Scotch and tequila to rum, many different types of liquor are actually matured in former bourbon casks. These seasoned vessels are often filled multiple times and are sometimes re-charred.

Brewers have also started using bourbon barrels to produce special bottlings. Why? Just as with hard alcohol, beer picks up a richness and sweetness from the wood and even a bit of the liquor’s flavor.

Forget cigars and barbecue; one of the best bourbon pairings is pancakes. Seriously. A number of boutique food companies are finishing maple syrup in used barrels. Blis buys casks that held 12- to 18-year-old bourbon and Noble gets its from Tuthilltown in upstate New York. Both also sell barrel-aged vinegars.

If you really love the brown spirit, you can make it a permanent part of your home with furniture created from reclaimed barrels. Uhuru Design, located in Red Hook, Brooklyn, nearly a thousand miles away from Kentucky, turns the staves into chairs, mirrors, benches and tables.

And a few mixologists, like Jeffrey Morgenthaler at Clyde Common in Portland, Ore., and Benjamin Schiller at Girl & the Goat in Chicago, are experimenting with aging Negronis and Manhattans in old barrels. We toast their pioneering spirit.

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