Want to experience something different during your Kentucky Bourbon Trail® vacation? Add a trip to a cooperage, where coopers make bourbon barrels, to your itinerary! Mint Julep Experiences is the only Kentucky tourism company allowed to take guests to the Brown-Forman Cooperage.
How to tour a cooperage
Starting Oct. 17 and continuing select Wednesdays this fall, guests can book a ticket online and travel with Mint Julep Experiences for a behind-the-barrel experience at Brown-Forman Cooperage. Until now, the only way inside the cooperage was through private, custom group outings with Mint Julep as the exclusive tour provider.
The cost is $75 per person and includes guided transportation with one of Mint Julep’s whiskey experts and cooperage tour admission. Take a morning or afternoon tour departing from the Mint Julep gift shop in the Galt House Hotel in downtown Louisville at 9:30 a.m. or 2:30 p.m.
Available dates for the half-day experiences include Oct. 17 and 24, Nov. 7 and 27, and Dec. 5 and 12. Tickets must be booked in advance online. Your cooperage tour can also be scheduled for private groups booking customized Mint Julep experiences upon request.
What you’ll see on a cooperage tour
Gain a new appreciation for the craftsmanship and impact of a barrel! Barrels for Old Forester, Coopers’ Craft and Woodford Reserve are all crafted at this Louisville cooperage.
See stacks of white oak and learn why drying and aging the wood is important for the barrel making process. Then walk through the working barrel making factory where staves are cut and prepared to make a barrel. Next, watch as a cooper ‘raises’ or builds a bourbon barrel by hand. They have to carefully choose staves for the perfect fit. It only takes seconds for a stack of wood to become bourbon barrel.
All the other parts of the barrel are important too including the metal hoops with custom Brown-Forman bolts marked with a “B.” After a barrel is raised, it passes through several tests, gets a bung whole, and then heads to be charred. This is often the favorite part of the process! You’ll get to see as fire erupts from below the barrels to toast and char each one to the desired level. The smell is something you have to witness in person!
The life of a barrel continues beyond the cooperage and the distillery. On your cooperage tour, you’ll get the inside scoop on every step of the process and how nothing goes to waste. Brown-Forman is the only major spirits company to make its own barrels. Your tour guide will teach you why they choose to make barrels themselves and how it effects the end product – whiskey!
Increase your Bourbon IQ
What is a cooper?
A cooper is a person who is trained to make or repair barrels. The highly specialized job includes assembly of barrels at the cooperage and ensuring they are fit for use.
Coopers at Brown-Forman Cooperage create a range of bourbon barrels for brands including Old Forester, Woodford Reserve and Coopers’ Craft. The brand Coopers’ Craft pays respect to the importance of the barrel making process and the cooper.
Brown-Forman also operates a cooperage in Alabama that makes barrels for Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey.
Where are bourbon barrels made?
Bourbon barrels are made at a place called a cooperage. Many brands contract a cooperage to craft barrels to their specifications. Brown-Forman operates its own cooperages to make barrels. Other regional cooperages include Independent Stave Company in Bardstown, Kentucky and Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville.
Can you buy a barrel?
Yes, there are many places to purchase a bourbon barrel. Often, used barrels are resold. Barrels can only be used once to make bourbon but many have a long life aging other spirits or are utilized by artisans for a variety of things.
If you want to purchase a barrel full of bourbon, distilleries can do that too! Buy the barrel experiences range in price by distillery. Read more about which distilleries offer barrel programs here.
About the Author – Rachel Nix
Rachel Nix has been Director of Marketing at Mint Julep since 2017. Her extensive bourbon education includes becoming an Executive Bourbon Steward through the Stave & Thief Society and graduating from Woodford Reserve’s Bourbon Academy. She is a Certified Tourism Ambassador and enthusiastic advocate for her adopted hometown of Louisville. When she’s not promoting Mint Julep’s portfolio of southern experiences, she can be found walking her dog or enjoying a drink on a Germantown patio.