From Mash to Marvel: The Barrel Chronicles

In the world of spirits, the journey from mash to marvel is one steeped in ancient traditions. Coopering, the art of barrel making, dates back over 4,000 years, and finding skilled coopers today is like hunting for hidden treasure.

Each barrel tells a story, and for me, the adventure begins with char #3 barrels. Here, intense heat pulls sugars to the surface, creating the coveted “red layer.” This layer filters out unwanted aromatics like sulfur, while the oak breathes, allowing the spirit inside to evolve.

In Onoway, Alberta, Mitch Kwasny at Iron Crown is one of the few master coopers in Canada. Mitch sources barrels from wineries in BC and California, then shaves, reassembles, toasts, and chars them. The result? Spirits aged in Mitch’s barrels emerge with rich amber tones and vanilla notes, embodying the spirit of Alberta. The grain elevator in Onoway, still standing as a sentinel, watching over these barrels as they journey out, proclaims, “Alberta is Canadian whisky.”

When I need new American oak barrels, I turn to Kelvin Cooperage. Founded in 1963 in Glasgow, Kelvin relocated to Louisville, Kentucky, in 1991 to be closer to Bourbon Country and its abundant American oak. Visiting Kelvin, I was struck by their unwavering commitment to quality, supplying top-tier barrels to leading distilleries worldwide.

In BC, I depend on Bosagrape Winery & Beer Supplies for smaller wine barrel orders, ensuring they travel under optimal conditions. Spirits aged in these ex-wine barrels initially take on a rosé tinge, eventually deepening to a warm amber.

Every barrel that arrives is carefully inspected. I use light and smell, then swish a bit of spirit inside to taste. If something’s amiss, the barrel becomes a decorative piece.

And yes, barrels can be reused. In Edmonton, I source 2nd and 3rd fill barrels from the US. These barrels, often used for Scotch whisky, offer cost-effectiveness and flavor enhancement. The spirit absorbs characteristics from the previous contents, while the oak’s influence becomes more subtle, allowing the spirit’s true character to shine.

Finishing barrels add that final flourish, turning good spirits into exceptional ones. This is our creative playground.

In Eastern Canada, Moreau Cooperage in Quebec is a top choice for sourcing both new and finishing barrels. Their selection includes cognac, Amarone, sherry, bourbon, rum, calvados, Armagnac, and German Riesling barrels. Their signature maple brûlé barrels impart delightful maple notes to whisky.

At Diony Distillery, our commitment to selecting the finest barrels matches our dedication to the grains we use. Our barrel-sourcing journey continues, enriching the intricate tapestry of our craft, one barrel at a time.

Every barrel at Moreau Cooperage is carefully handled to meet the highest standards, ensuring exceptional quality for spirit aging.
Visiting Kelvin Cooperage, where we source our new American oak barrels to age our whisky.

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