Beyond Wine: Stainless Steel & Bourbon

We don’t want to rock the boat, but this post won’t be about wine. You see, Skolnik stainless steel drums are rocking a boat of their own in the bourbon market. Just as the wine industry has long worshipped the aroma and magic of oak, so has the bourbon-making industry. Distillers go to bed each night dreaming of that perfectly charred oak barrel that will provide a home and some extra flavor to their latest batch of delicious bourbon.

However, in the last year or so a new bourbon insider secret has come out: distillers are falling madly in love with stainless steel barrels.

After the bourbon is aged in that cozy, charred oak barrel – a requisite for it to be considered a bourbon – it can be transferred to stainless steel barrels for storage.

That’s right, distillers all around bourbon county are turning to stainless steel barrels to house their precious product. Bourbon historian Michael Veach notes that a lot of distillery use stainless steel barrels for their older-aged process because it is either that or glass — and glass is more expensive and incredibly breakable. Stainless steel doesn’t interact with the bourbon the way a conventional barrel does. “When you’ve got whiskey that is at what you consider peak and you don’t want to bottle it all right now,” Veach explains, “they will put it in stainless steel barrels to stop the aging process.”

We don’t’ know how long this has been going on or how widespread it is, but Veach says it is hardly a new practice. We do know that Van Winkle has been known to store their rye whiskey in stainless steel in addition to bourbons and that Skolnik stainless steel barrels have been spotted in use at Buffalo Trace.

They may not be as romantic as a charred oak barrel, but stainless steel barrels have found a home in American distilleries.