In the United States, a barrel crafted from American white oak (Quercus alba) and used to age the spirit that will become Bourbon, Tennessee Whiskey, sour mash, or any number of craft whiskies can be used only once, as specified by law. After this use, most of the used barrels are sold to distilleries in Scotland and Ireland for maturation of their whiskies. In America, the barrels are generally used between one and eight years. Across the pond, they are used to age the spirit for three to upwards of forty years.
After contributing their distinctive characteristics to the aging spirit – primarily sweet, floral, spicy, vanilla, and caramelized aromas and flavors – the oak barrels are ready for the next stage of their lives. This reincarnation sometimes takes exotic turns, both in use and geography.
In America, reconfiguring staves into tables and chairs is not new. What is unique, however, about the connoisseur-quality pieces being crafted in San Diego by Barrelly Made It (BMI), a division of Planet Rooth Design Haus, is their U.S. Design Patent (#USD615313S), and the attention to detail in construction and style.
BMI is the manifestation of Creative Director Gustaf Anders Rooth, Jr., a native of Sweden. As a designer and Master Craftsman, Rooth creates pieces using reclaimed whiskey barrels from American distilleries and wine barrels from California wineries. Each component of the barrel is recycled and reused, including the staves, heads (ends) and steel bands.
BMI is housed in an upscale area of San Diego, California, surrounded by galleries, cafés, medical offices and stately homes. When the company was new, the furniture was called “Bohemian Chic”, but with a hand-stamped medallion of authenticity affixed to each piece, and the granting of the design patent, that moniker evolved into “Functional Art”, and “clients” became “collectors”, residing in more than a dozen states and several countries.
I recently presented a “Whiskey/Whisky Tasting” at Planet Rooth Design Haus for 35 enthusiastic guests. Three Bourbons and three Scotch single malts were chosen because of their unique relationship with wood. Even the serving “plates” for the gourmet hors d’oeuvres were wood – finished sections of whiskey barrel oak staves. The event provided guests with an opportunity to experience the differences between whiskey and whisky. Our Bourbons were Maker’s Mark, Maker’s 46, and Woodford Reserve Double Oaked. Chef Rob Conaway presented a sweeter palate for these, including an apple crumble with hazelnuts, black truffles, and gingered shrimp mousse.
To accompany the single malts, The Balvenie DoubleWood, Auchentoshan Three Wood, and Arizona High Spirits (mesquite-smoked single malt from America), Chef prepared Moroccan chicken salad with sultanas and cilantro, Bourbon barrel braised pork, and Gruyere cheese with Turkish fig honey.
The evening was a true celebration of the creative expressions of a Master Wood Craftsman, Master Distillers, and a World-Experienced Chef.
In Scotland, after serving the whisky for decades, thousands of expended barrels per year are destined for the land fill. Although the wood has been exhausted of its ability to properly influence the aging whisky, it remains beautiful oak, from one-half to three quarters of an inch thick. Most of the wood is American white oak (Quercus alba), having previously aged U.S. whiskey before its service in Scotland, and some is European oak (Quercus robur), having previously aged sherry, in Spain.
McKay Flooring, Ltd. is one of the UK’s leading hardwood floor specialists, with over 40 years of craftsmanship and experience behind it. This expertise led to an engineered process to make flat boards out of the gracefully curved oak barrel staves.
Distinctive markings and branding of the Bourbon, sherry and whisk(e)y manufacturers who have used the barrels over the course of their lives are intact, and add to the bespoke nature of a recycled stave floor.
Recently, the company used whisky barrel flooring as wall covering as part of the extensive renovation of the Laird’s Room in Glasgow’s exclusive Corinthian Club. Comments company president, Richard McKay, “The range of these barrels is really quite extraordinary. Some are sherry barrels from the Spanish town of Jerez; others are Bourbon barrels from all over the US.”
Another innovation of the company is to use cobbles, actually scrap material left after cutting staves to the proper length, are also finding a new calling as wall décor.