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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Journeyman Distillery: Buy the Whiskey, Keep the Barrel

By Doug Dorda

Photo courtesy of Journeyman Distillery
Home beer and wine makers, have we not all fantasized about filling our very own barrel? Have we not sat in pleasant company and mused over the stylistic variances of fermented ale or vino that could benefit from an aging in a once-used whiskey barrel? Have we not become downtrodden when noticing that the price of said used barrel is often well into the hundreds, not to mention that the 55- or 60-gallon size is a bit cumbersome to store as well as increasingly difficult and expensive to fill. Often times I have mused that it would be so much grander were I able to locate a 5-, 10-, or even 15-gallon barrel to use, but often they cost as much as their larger counterparts.

Recently, while sipping a glass of the Ravenswood Rye from Michigan-based Journeyman Distillery, I discovered that they offer a unique solution to the “small barrel" problem. Often the distillery utilizes barrels that are quite a bit smaller than the traditional 55- or 60-gallon size, opting most commonly for 15- or 30-gallon barrels (they will even use as small as a five gallon barrel on occasion). But how do I get my hands on one of these? This is where things get interesting.

There is a lottery of sorts available to those who are not opposed to rolling the dice. You may put your name in to receive Journeyman's spent barrels on a first-come first-serve basis as the barrels are retired. However, as you may imagine, this method of acquisition is inundated quite often by barrel enthusiasts, and may come with a shaky, if inconsistent time frame by which to expect fruition. A more assured way to get your hands on one of these beauties is to enroll yourself in Journeyman's traveling barrel program.

For those of us with patience and an appreciation for whiskey, this may be one of the more fun “journeys” you will take. A full explanation of the program can be found at the Journeyman website, but my favorite program would have to be the one year journey. For $275 dollars you get to decorate your very own 15-gallon barrel which will be on display in the distillery for one year. You are also allowed to choose one of three whiskeys that will be aged in the barrel for that one year. When time has expired, you will travel back to the distillery to help bottle the whiskey out of your barrel. Not only do you then get to take the barrel with you, but you are also awarded four 750-ml bottles of the whiskey that was aged in your barrel.

Let’s review: $275 gets you a 15-gallon barrel, four bottles of a whiskey that you decide upon (each retailing for $50), and a journey to a corner of Michigan (Three Oaks) you may not have otherwise visited. And did I mention that Greenbush Brewing is just a stones throw away? Quite the adventure in fermentation if I do say so myself.

For those keeping score, the whiskey that you receive accounts for $200 of the initial investment placed toward the barrel. The barrel itself then only costs $75, quite a bit less than many other avenues of requisition. However, can one truly place a price on being able to say this: “Do you like that beer? That all began 18 months ago when I bought into a barrel at Journeyman Distillery. I chose rye whiskey to age for one year as I wanted to add a layer of new depth to my barleywine. I waited what seemed like an eternity to fill that barrel and, as such, you are tasting my vision of the past, brought to fruition in the present. Do you want to try the whiskey that aged in the barrel too?”

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