The Journey of a Barrel

By Sean Kenniff


Sean Kenniff
Heaven Hill Harvey the Barrel's Journey
Heaven Hill Harvey the Barrel's Journey

Barrel sharing is not a new idea. It’s a centuries-old practice that connects distilleries across countries and continents. In Seattle, though, one barrel has come to symbolize the strength of the beverage community and a rapidly evolving industry. The barrel picked up notes of soft caramel and vanilla in Kentucky. In Seattle, it was first imbued with juniper and grains of paradise before being touched by tonic with hints of orange and cane sugar. On its next Seattle stop, it received whispers of coriander, and then amarillo hops and jasmine. The barrel transformed every liquid it touched on its journey.

Start: American oak is harvested in Kentucky, and a barrel is born. It’s destined for an epic journey that starts with a char— hopefully not too traumatizing for the young barrel.   

Stop 1: The barrel (call him Heaven Hill Harvey) spends his formative years, seven to be exact, filled with Heaven Hill bourbon, contracting and expanding in Kentucky’s fickle climate.

Stop 2: Harvey goes for his first (and only) cross country trip—Grand Canyon sight seeing not included—on his way to Captive Spirits in Seattle, where Distiller Ben Capdevielle rests his Big Gin in the barrel for six months.   

Stop 3: Variety is the spice of a barrel’s life. Harvey’s next stop is across Salmon Bay, where Sound Spirits Distiller Bradley Feather ages his Kina Tonic within his wooden staves for five months.

Stop 4: Next, Harvey heads downtown to Copperworks for another round of gin for four months.

Stop 5: Like a booze hound at the end of a long night out, at his final destination Harvey switches to beer. At Elysian Brewing he carries the Avatar Jasmine IPA for three months before tapping out.

Stop 6: After all his hard work, Harvey goes to the spa. Elysian inoculates the barrel with beer-spoiling bacteria before using Harvey to age sour beers. For Harvey, it's like moving to Boca Raton for his twilight years.  

Final Destination: When Harvey has fulfilled his destiny, after what will probably be decades spent aging sour beers, he becomes a planter—perhaps becoming a cradle for an American oak sapling and starting the journey for another barrel’s life.

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