One local company is proving that you don’t have to head to Kentucky, or even leave the Fort Wayne city limits, to have a quality barrel made for craft beverages.
Combining elements of machining, wood-working, and blacksmithing, “coopering” – or barrel-making – could be described as a form of art. Matthew Lipsky, better known as “Choo,” left a corporate job in Chicago and followed his passion a year and a half ago. He founded Anne-Grey Cooperage after moving to his wife’s hometown of Fort Wayne. Over the years, he’s learned from a few mentors, and taught himself, how to make a quality barrel.
Unlike the 53-gallon standard barrels you’d typically find at distilleries in Kentucky, Anne-Grey Cooperage specializes in smaller barrels. Their most popular size is a 5-gallon barrel, but they also make a 15-gallon, 1-gallon, and even a 1.5 liter barrel. Smaller barrels are in high-demand because they have more liquid-to-surface volume ratio, allowing the spirit inside – rum, tequila, or bourbon – to take on the complex flavors of the barrel faster than a standard barrel.
Each piece of 3-year, air-seasoned American Oak is hand-selected to make the staves (sides of the barrel). These are pieced together like a puzzle so that there are no leaks. No sealant or glue is used to make the barrels liquid-tight.
After the wood is assembled, the inside is charred to help bring out more flavor. When it comes to bourbon, 60-80% of the flavor and 100% of the color comes right from the barrel.
Each barrel is made-to-order at Anne-Grey Cooperage, named after Choo’s wife and daughter, because the longer an empty barrel sits around, the more the wood dries out, allowing cracks and gaps to form.
Most of Anne-Grey’s customers are local, such as Three Rivers Distilling Company, or in the Midwest, but they have shipped their hand-crafted barrels to Canada, Europe, and all over the world.
Barrels are available for order on their website: annegreycooperage.com.