Barrel Art, Without the Whisky

I feel that so many traditional handicrafts qualify as art, and one of these still has to be barrel-making – the cooper’s art. When it comes to whisky, the type of barrel used and what was previously stored in the barrel make up a good portion of the art of the spirit.

Cooper's workshop, Open air museum Roscheider Hof, Konz, Germany Source: Helge Klaus Rieder

Cooper’s workshop, Open air museum Roscheider Hof, Konz, Germany
Source: Helge Klaus Rieder

A few years ago, Glenfiddich commissioned Barrel Art from Johnson Banks, and I liked some of the results. All are quite clearly made from whisky barrels.

And then there’s this wood-less piece:

Johnson Banks Barrel Art - Double Helix Source: Johnson Banks

Johnson Banks Barrel Art – Double Helix
Source: Johnson Banks

Here are some more recognizable barrels from a set commissioned by Brown-Forman Travel Retailer:

Brown Forman Barrels Source: Bornrich

Brown Forman Barrels
Source: Bornrich

From Wikipedia:

“Examples of a cooper’s work include but are not limited to casks, barrels, buckets, tubs, butter churns, hogsheads, firkins, tierces, rundlets, puncheons, pipes, tuns, butts, pins and breakers.

“A cask is any piece of cooperage containing a bouge, bilge, or bulge in the middle of the container. A barrel is a type of cask, so the terms “barrel-maker” and “barrel-making” only refer to one aspect of a cooper’s work.”

These days, coopers are mainly called upon to make barrels for wine or spirits, and most barrels are no longer produced by hand.

Many years ago, I found an old example of a cooper’s work in Germany, a well-used, hand-made wooden washing tub that had been dismantled. It’s not quite whisky barrel art, but I made a small shuttered window in a door that had been permanently bricked up in the old stone tower of our house.

A stone door in our tower, with an installation we put in. The stripes on the wood doors are from the metal bands, the frame of the piece is from the bottom of the old wash barrel. Photo: PK Read

A stone door in our tower, with an installation we put in. The stripes on the wood doors are from the metal bands, the frame of the piece is from the bottom of the old wash barrel. 
Photo: PK Read

The interior of the barrel window.

The burnt-looking stripes mark where the level of the water and soap once churned. A tiny Balvenie dram with lavender from the garden. Old ceramic plates we found in the house form the mosaic. Photo: PK Read

The burnt-looking stripes mark where the level of the water and soap once churned. A tiny Balvenie dram with lavender from the garden. Old ceramic plates we found in the house form the mosaic.
Photo: PK Read

More:

A video on barrel-making:

#LiquidAmericana

Liquid+Americana+TTBack in January, I felt very lucky to get a taste of Pappy Van Winkle 23-year-old whiskey. I grew up drinking bourbon, but I can’t say I really discovered whisky until I visited Scotland. And although the Pappy 23 was a revelation, I haven’t sampled all that many different American-made whiskies. Yet.

The popularity of North American artisan whiskey has been growing for a while now, but many of the smaller distilleries aren’t heavily represented over here in Europe. Yet.

From a good article on the history of whiskey in North America:

“The (American) Revolution meant the decline of rum and the ascendancy of whiskey in America. When the British blockade of American ports cut off the molasses trade, most New England rum distillers converted to whiskey. Whiskey had a patriotic flavor. It was an all-American drink, made in America by Americans from American grain, unlike rum, wine, gin, Madeira, brandy, coffee, chocolate, or tea, which had to be imported and were taxed.”

Farmers on Virginia’s frontier began making whiskey with corn instead of rye in 1789, but what made it distinctive was aging. The Virginians discovered that charring the inside of oak barrels gave their matured whiskey a superior flavor and dark, rich color.”

Production had its ups and downs – particularly during the Civil War and the Prohibition – but over the last few years, a wide variety of American whiskey has been created that branch out from the standard bourbon I grew up with. A lot of the newer stuff is rye whiskey. Rye whiskey is made from fermented mashed grain that is at least 51 percent rye (a legal requirement), and is described as more peppery and complex by some than bourbon, which is at least 51 percent corn and has a sweeter, smoother taste.

So, as an American living in France, I am very pleased to have been selected as one of the tasters for the upcoming tweet tasting sponsored by The Whisky Wire and Arkwrights Whisky and Wines, #LiquidAmericana.

For me, the benefits are twofold: I get to see what’s going on in the whiskey world Stateside, a touch of home, and I get to discover some great (I hope) whiskies among fellow whisky lovers.

I’ve already received my five numbered sample dram bottles in the mail. One of the bottle caps was slightly loose, so the postal service got a tiny share of Number 3 and I got a nice whiff of what’s to come on Wednesday, June 26. I tightened the cap, and lined up the five bottles on a shelf. The rest remain a mystery – I haven’t opened them. Yet.

Here’s a nifty American whiskey map:

U.S. Whiskey Map Source: SloshSpot via Visual.ly

U.S. Whiskey Map
Source: SloshSpot via Visual.ly