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Photo by Sara Havens

July 15, 2009

Bar Belle: Bung holes ’n’ char

Inside the Brown-Forman Cooperage

While bung holes ’n’ char sounds like a kickass band name, it actually sums up my recent visit to the Brown-Forman Cooperage. That’s right, I didn’t even need Mom’s signature to go on this field trip. The factory where they hand-make the barrels for aging spirits like Woodford Reserve, Jack Daniel’s, Old Fo, Early Times, Canadian Mist and Herradura is right in our backyard and open to the public.

If you’re a bourbon belle like me, you know that the charred white oak barrel is just as important an ingredient in the bourbon-making process as corn, barley … even our Kentucky limestone water. Much like shacking up with a Porter’s cougar for the night, aging is where the magic happens. So getting a glimpse of the process that goes into making these handcrafted containers of charred love was a dream come true. (And it got me out of the office for the afternoon.)

Brown-Forman opened the cooperage in 1945 and remains the only liquor company in the world that crafts its own barrels. With a staff of nearly 220 employees, the factory, located just behind Louisville International Airport, churns out about 1,500 barrels a day in a process that really hasn’t changed much in the last 60 years. The tour includes a walk through the noisy, chaotic and sometimes smoldering warehouse as you follow the barrel from its early stages as a bunch of staves being hammered together (33 to a barrel) to the drilling of the bung hole to the fire-scorching of the interior (which gives the bourbon its distinct amber coloring and delicious medley of vanillas and caramels).

The romantic smell of lumber wafts throughout the factory, and you get an up-close snapshot of the men and women dedicated to the craftsmanship of the simple barrel. It was something I felt honored to get a peek at, and I left with a new respect for burnt wood and a voracious appetite for bourbon.

Brown-Forman Cooperage tours are set up through Mint Julep Tours. Call 583-1433 or visit www.mintjuleptours.com for more information.

 

Germans do it better?

The bar formerly known as Dublin Cellar (and Wet Willy’s and then just Willy’s) is changing its name, atmosphere and origin of choice once again — this time to Renbarger’s Brewhaus, a German-themed bar. Leo the bartender says they’ll be open throughout “the change,” and a grand opening is scheduled for Saturday, July 18. Moderate interior and exterior changes will be made to reflect the new theme.

The good news: The lizard is staying. It’s unknown at press time whether he’ll have to give up the bangers ’n’ mash for sausage ’n’ kraut. Dublin Willyhaus is located at 942 Baxter Ave.

 

Drunk Texts of the Week

“There r lots of sleeveless Ts here at the concert … made me think of you :)”

“Hippies n red bull dont mix.”

“In span of 6 days, ive met most of ur family. Shldnt we b at 2nd base by now?”

 

You guys are getting the hang of it! Keep ’em coming! Copy me at shavens@leoweekly.comCheck out my daily reasons to drink at barbelle.leoweekly.com.