The other day I was part of a virtual BARDS (Bourbon And Rye Drinkers Society) meeting with David Whitmer, Master Blender from MGP as a guest. One of the subjects we discussed was the warehousing of their whiskey. This set my mind wandering about the different types of warehouses and how they age whiskey differently. Heaven Hill has the most variety of warehouses of any company, but I am not sure how much they are experimenting with them when it comes to aging individual barrels of whiskey. This made me think – “If I had a few million dollars to invest, what type of warehouse campus would I build?”
First of all, I would find some land in the country that included a hill and a lower sheltered area. The hilltop would provide warehouses with plenty of exposure to sun and wind. The sheltered area would not be so exposed to the elements. I would build some traditional warehouses with the Stitzel-Patented rack system. On top of the hill, I would build a couple of iron clad warehouses of six or seven stories of racks three barrels high. These warehouses are not insulated and get hotter in the summer and colder in the winter.
In the lower laying, sheltered area, I would build a brick warehouse with steam heating and a brick warehouse without heating. The heating would provide for additional heat cycles during the winter. The unheated warehouse would be better insulated than the ironclad warehouse and being in a sheltered area, not get as hot in the summer and as cold in the winter as the ironclad warehouses. These warehouses would also be six or seven stories tall with three barrel high racks on each floor. Unlike the ironclad warehouses, I would make each floor separate with thick concrete floors.
Now to pay for this investment, I would rent space to distilleries who are too small to have their own warehouses. These distilleries could then experiment with the aging process. They might start aging in the ironclad warehouses. The top floors would allow for a lot of summer heat, giving the whiskey a lot of tannins in the first couple of years. They could rotate the barrels down as the whiskey aged in the ironclad warehouses but, they could also take the option of slowing things down even more by moving the whiskey to the unheated brick warehouse.
Others might want to age their whiskey in the heated brick warehouse to get more heat cycles for their barrels, with the goal to get the whiskey to market sooner. Heated warehouses do not gain the benefits of rotating the barrels as in the summer, the top floors are hotter because heat rises, but in the winter the steam heat will make the ground floor hotter, mimicking what happens when rotating barrels.
The slowest aging will happen in the unheated brick warehouse. It will not get as hot in the summer or as cold in the winter. This is where a distiller might want to place barrels designated for extra-long aging for more than eight or ten years.
To manage this aging warehousing, I would hire a crew of workers to move the barrels, but also build a lab to test the aging and pull samples for the customers. This would give the smaller distilleries the benefits that the large distilleries enjoy, without the expense. I would keep data from lab samples and make the information available to customers so they can decide if they want to create new brands by changing up the aging process on barrels.
I do like to contemplate such things as this during my days of social distancing. This would be an interesting project if I ever won the lottery. I am not sure that it would make a lot of money, but it would be a fun project and I am sure I would get to taste a lot of interesting whiskey.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller