The Secret Life Of Bourbon Barrels

The secret life of bourbon barrels

Like Woody in Toy Story, bourbon barrels are quite busy when we're not paying attention.

In fact, these vessels are becoming the latest commodities of the food world, finding employment in their post-whiskey lives as containers for everything from fish sauce to beer.

Some barrels even end up as pieces in the firebox of a smoker, where their sweet fumes imbue all manner of meats and vegetables. (A most honorable death, we think.)

To see precisely how prolific a barrel can be, we traced the castoffs of Heaven Hill, Tuthilltown, Pappy Van Winkle and Woodford Reserve and plotted their afterlife in an illustrated diagram (click here to see).

An empty barrel from Heaven Hill, for instance, might age maple syrup for a few months at Blis in Michigan before holding cocktails at The Aviary, Grant Achatz's bar in Chicago. And that's only the beginning: We heard many tales of barrels that were sold anonymously and had afterlives at such places as Tabasco and cookware innovator PolyScience–the latter just released a barrel-chip collection to power its Smoking Gun.

More frequently, small-quantity barrels are available to the home consumer (click here to buy), so it's never been easier to start some aging projects of your own. Be creative. When it comes to the second (and third and fourth) purposes of barrels, it's like Buzz would say: to infinity and beyond.