Celebrating Innovation and Thinking Outside the Barrel

Need drives invention. With wine production so closely tied to weather cycles, the economy and other less-than-predictable factors, there is no shortage of innovation in the wine industry. Since the oak shortage and global warming, we’ve seen a boon of more eco-friendly innovations in wine. Stainless steel wine barrels have been around for years, but the increased adoption and popularity of them is, arguably, due to a shortage of oak for barrels and a growing awareness of water and material waste.

While Skolnik stainless steel wine barrels are a great solution for a number of different needs around wineries and distilleries, we recognize the rich history and flavor that continue to draw winemakers to oak. It’s a predicament that keeps bringing us more and more innovative ideas and oak alternatives. For one master cooper in Park Rapids, MN, it inspired him to think outside the barrel.

Russ Karasch, co-founder, CEO and master cooper at Black Swan Cooperage, has designed and engineered the Squarrel. As a traditional cooper, there is no substitute for oak for Russ, but the oak shortage posed a serious problem. His patented Squarrel was designed to help overcome the “detrimental oak shortage that strained even the most established of cooperages,” according to the company’s website. And, mitigate the egregious waste of precious oak tree resources.

The Squarrel is a reusable, customizable, square-shaped barrel for beer, wine and spirits. It is made using strips of the finest quality oak that was deemed ‘scrap’ by stave mills. When stave mills cut oak for a traditional barrel, they throw the odds and ends out. Squarrel puts some of those scraps to use. Between using these cast offs and their custom, reusable, stainless steel support frame, a Squarrel uses one-third of the wood of a traditional barrel.

Of course, the Squarrel is still a wood-based barrel. It still relies on the availability of quality oak and isn’t as easy and water-efficient to clean and sanitize as a fully stainless steel wine barrel, but it makes great strides for waste reduction and efficiency. At Skolnik, we champion innovation, especially in the name of protecting the environment and resources. We’re excited to see more creative problem solving in an industry with so much tradition. Congratulations to Karasch and all of the wine and spirit-lovers working hard to create great products while limiting their impact on the environment.