One of the most rewarding, but difficult, tasks around the distillery is repairing a leaking barrel. We stick to tradition by using natural methods to cooper our barrels, this way we can avoid using any chemical sealants. We got to visit some great cooperages while traveling, like the famous Speyside Cooperage. I try to stay in contact with the people we’ve met along the way, and I am always wanting to learn more. In the above photo, a small oak cone, called a “spile,” is hammered next to a leaking stave to scissor the seam together… then sawed flushed with a Japanese saw.
Cattail reeds, that grow along northern lakes and rivers, make for a great natural “flagging.” They can be fluffed up and packed into a minor leak. When the cellulose in their fibers swell it produces a sap-like sealant.
If Texas’ swings in temperature spread the staves too far apart, then it’s time for oak wedges. I use white oak, and saw pieces down to size. You have to use a chisel to get the plug started, and nothing less than a 3 lb. mallet will do. No repair is finished without a little sanding to seal the wood grain, and then it’s rubbed with a mixture of wax and chalk. I won’t let anything touch the barrels I’m not willing to taste!
I hope y’all are enjoying the whiskey and find coopering interesting too,