Swap Gigs with Riggs: Brown-Forman Cooperage - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Swap Gigs with Riggs: Brown-Forman Cooperage

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Louisville, Ky. (WDRB)  -- What makes a whiskey great? If you ask Brown Forman, it's not just what's in the bottle.  It's what's in the barrel.

And as Sterling Riggs found out swapping gigs at the company's cooperage, it's not easy being a master barrel raiser.

"We make barrels like a baker makes a cake," says barrel expert Jerry Nalley.

Tucked in a row of non-descript businesses near Louisville's airport there's a group of incredibly hard working people with a burning desire to raise spirits. Specifically, bourbon. Brown Forman is the only major distiller in the world that makes its own barrels, and the building is full of conveyer belts, flames, and incredible loud machinery. That is where the magic happens.

It all starts with a giant warehouse full of wood. Nalley has done just about every  job during his 38 years at the cooperage. And he knows how important this lumber is to even the most refined palates of bourbon drinkers everywhere.

According to Nalley, wood is the biggest expense, when it comes to making barrels. But it also adds 50 to 60 percent of the flavor and 100 percent of the color.

The cooperage uses 85 thousand American White Oak staves every day.

Once the wood is prepared, it's time to raise the barrel. That is where the hand work comes in. It took Sterling about 10 minutes to make one.

An experienced cooper can raise 35 barrels an hour and crank out 318 a day.

Then it's off to be charred.  Barrel heads are put in place. The bung hole is drilled, and its inspected for any leaks.

Nalley says the Cooperage produces about 2,700 to 2,800 barrels a day or about 600,000 a year.

Start to finish, it takes 4 hours for the finished product to roll off the assembly line.  They are then shipped all over the world.

So the next time you take a swig of Jack Daniels or Woodford Reserve, just remember it all started right here in Louisville with the hard work of the people at the cooperage.

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