— at the time I was working on 30-gallon barrels — is a 30-gallon barrel. Cool, I know I can build a shell of a 30-gallon barrel. How in the hell do I croze this thing?” (“Crozing” refers to cutting the grooves — called crozes — inside the barrel where the heads will rest.) In the meantime, Smith had developed a relationship with another local cooperage, Kalamazoo Cooperage, who had built their own crozing machine. They offered to let him come down and croze his barrel at their cooperage, which he did to less than satisfactory results. “The first barrel looked like a bubble,” Smith tells me. “It was massive. I had my angles wrong.” Ben Aldrich from Kalamazoo offered him some advice: Smith was taking too much off both his head and his bilge, which resulted in perfectly curved barrel staves that were supposed to be straight. Smith redesigned his barrel and got back to work, but found that his materials were dwindling. “At this point, I had figured I had about $20,000 into oak and nothing to show for it. I’m starting to freak out.” In a panic, he cut up the remainder of his wood into staves and began to put it together. It fit. Smith took his barrel to Kalamazoo and found that it crozed nicely. He had assembled his first complete barrel, and it wouldn’t stop leaking. Smith took his barrel back to his father-in-law’s shop looking for answers. They measured it together and found that the head of the barrel was a 32nd of an inch off in diameter, and could not seal right with the croze. They adjusted their design, built two new heads, and finally had a receptacle ready for spirit. From his initial
pallet, Smith found he still had enough wood to build two more barrels, which landed him with three complete barrels out of a possible 20. “So once I had proven I could build a barrel, I started going to distilleries in Michigan and talking to them, and I got my first order for 12 barrels in April of 2017.” It’s now 18 months later, and Croze Nest is still very much a fresh face in the market, but they are working hard. Smith initially wanted to keep things small and still does — he is the only person to touch every barrel that comes out of the cooperage. It’s just one of the things that set him apart from other folks in the industry, though he has nothing but kind things to say about them. Croze Nest is committed to doing things the old way. “I use an open fire to bend it, I use all oak chips, introduce very little water in the process till the pressure testing and hydration happens,” says Smith about his production. “I work with craft distillers and some buy all their barrels from me, and some just buy their specialty stuff.” “In all of this my grandmother was doing a genealogy project, and she found out that my 10th great-grandfather was the master cooper on the Mayflower,” Smith reveals. “So 10 generations later, the Smith family picked up the hammer and started again, and I’m building it the same way he did it in 1620.” Perhaps coopering was simply meant to be.
Croze Nest is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For more information visit www.crozenest.com or call (616) 805-9132.
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