There's been some focus of late on the importance of the humble oak barrel in the whisky world. Balvenie just last month released Chapter 2 of its DCS Compendium, aptly titled "The Influence of Oak" of which all 5 expressions in that chapter were picked to highlight the cask influence on the liquid (watch Balvenie's David Stewart and Sam Simmons discuss the influence here) In the same month, Jameson's head cooper Ger Buckley (one of only 5 professional coopers in Ireland) arrived in Australia to promote the Jameson "Whisky Maker" series, of which one expression called the Coopers Croze was created by him to showcase the diversity of barrels at the distillery and the influence of wood on whisky. The Croze in fact references the tool used to carve the grooves at the top of the barrel without which the lid would not fit. At one of his coopering demonstrations, Ger mentioned that the barrels at Midleton Distillery (where Jameson is produced) are used about 3-4 times (circa about 30-40 years in total) before they are shipped off to Havana Club to age its rum.
Which kinda got us thinking...after all that work, where do old whisky barrels go to die?
In a tasting that took place many moons ago, we asked the same question of the master distillers of Laphroaig and Makers Mark (the latter supplies its barrels to the former) to which the answer was...garden centres (mainly). Ger in his free time, also repurposes old unused barrels into things such as clocks and chairs. And of course, we're sure many a barrel has found its way into bottle shops and event venues for display, whilst Pinterest turned up many stunning furniture uses for it. In a nod to the humble barrel, without which whisky would not come to be, here's our pick of the year's 3 most imaginative reincarnation of Woody aside from the ubiquitous furniture and pens.
1. Cut Throat Knives x Starward
Local maker Cut Throat Knives teamed up with Starward to come up with a limited edition knife made using staves from the whisky barrels that helped the makers of Starward whisky secure Best Craft Distiller in San Fransisco earlier in 2016. With only 5 knives produced, the retail price of $730 a pop did not stop it from selling out in 4 minutes. The wood that's used in the handle has been lightly charred and still smells of Starward's rich, Australian single malt. If you thought knives and whisky shared nothing in common, think again - in the words of CTK itself, "like spirit in a barrel, this blade will age with time, taking on a patina that reflects the hours spent cooking with it. See it as a badge of honour of time well spent."
2. Roys Road Watches x Andrew Brown x Glenfiddich
In 2016, Glenfiddich held a competition challenging bartenders around the globe to "collaborate with mavericks outside the traditional drinks world to create a more surprising, unusual and inventive Glenfiddich drinking experience." Whilst they didn't win the overall competition, the Kiwi entrants comprising of bartender Andrew Brown and watch maker Roys Road wowed with their take on repurposing used Glenfiddich casks into a limited edition timepiece. Boasting a timber face sourced from the original barrel staves used to age the liquid we hear different limited edition batches will be made, each batch inspired by a different variant of Glenfiddich. Available from March 2017 keep your eyes peeled for news on how you can get your hands wrapped around one.
3. Glenmorangie x Finlay & Co sunglasses
Celebrated Scottish whisky distiller Glenmorangie teamed up with equally celebrated British maker Finlay & Co to come up with a set of wooden-framed sunglasses to celebrate the whisky brand's pioneering approach to cask management. Each pair is made by hand with the same American oak used to age the Scotch, the wood itself pared down in the process to display the cask's grain and finish. With a RRP of GBP300, these are not sunnies you want to lay about carelessly.