“If it’s really tight grain you’re not going to get quite as much interaction as quickly with the spirit going in and out of the wood, where if it’s a looser grain, a little bit softer, you’re going to get some interaction there. The tightness of the grain is another key,” says Greg. In a cavernous storage facility just across the street from the distillery and restaurant, barrels of aging bourbon are stacked as much as eight rows high. Intentionally, temperature is not highly regulated inside the building. “As that barrel raises its temperature the air will expand and push that liquid into the wood. As it gets colder, the air space in the head of the barrel will shrink and the liquid gets pulled back out of the wood. When that temp change happens it’s great for the spirits because it interacts with the wood,” says Greg. Consider this: when freshly distilled bourbon goes into a barrel, it’s clear. It is interaction with the wood and time that complete the process and cultivate flavors. “The barrel is responsible for 100% of the color and probably 50% of the flavor of bourbon,” says Darren. “That’s an intriguing part of the story.”
“Used barrels are a commodity unto themselves. Most are repurposed in the Scotch industry, some go into Irish whiskey, some go into tequilas,” Darren says. What used bourbon barrels aren’t repurposed for Watershed’s bourbon-barrel gin are snapped up by MadTree, Seventh Son and Wolf ’s Ridge breweries, among others, for barrel-aged beer projects. “Most barrels go on in life for many, many uses, decades sometimes. It’s not uncommon for a barrel to have a 25–35-year life,” says Darren. Filled with spirits and left to rest, imparting flavors and depth in a time-honored tradition—it’s not a bad life to lead.
Watershed Distillery and Watershed Kitchen & Bar 1145 Chesapeake Ave., Suite D, Columbus, Ohio 43212, 614-357-1936, watersheddistillery.com Paid tours available on weekends at the distillery. Speyside Bourbon Barrel Cooperage 960 East Main St., PO Box 509, Jackson, Ohio 45640, 740-688-2160, speysidebci.com
And once the bourbon has run its course inside a barrel?
Inside the Watershed Kitchen & Bar, which is located onsite at the Watershed Distillery.