Despite advances and automation affecting the way almost everything is manufactured these days, the way whiskey barrels are made has changed very little over the years. The process is still a time-honored skill known as “cooperage” and the craftsmen are known as “coopers.” The finest whiskeys are aged in only the finest quality whiskey barrels and those barrels are all hand made by professional coopers.
After the best wood is selected, the cooper skillfully splits the oak logs into quarters that are used to make the sections of the whiskey barrel, called “staves.” The staves are seasoned to rid them of odors that could permeate the whiskey. Only staves that have been aged for several years are selected to be cut for assembly. The cooper forms the barrel by assembling the staves inside steel hoops. The partially assembled barrel, called a “rose,” is then placed over a fire and lightly charred. The degree or charring depends on the type of whiskey that will be aged in the barrel. A groove, called a “croze,” is then cut into both ends of the staves and the heads of the whiskey barrel are fit into the croze. After tightening the hoops, the barrel is tested to ensure it is impermeable. The finishing touches include planning and sanding.