Cooperages are not new to the world. In fact, they have been around for ages, supplying various wooden containers to fulfill many different needs worldwide.
Today, one of the most prominent cooperages in the world is the family-owned and operated Kelvin Cooperage, based out of Louisville, Kentucky.
Kelvin Cooperage has not fallen prey to abandoning its traditional methods of operation. Opting for quality over quantity, this cooperage has stuck to its traditions, offering its clients the highest quality barrels available.
Its quality of production has solidified Kelvin Cooperage’s place as one of the world's premier cooperages, keeping it in high demand to help produce some of the finest craft bourbon the world has to offer.
From European roots to American traditions
Along the banks of its namesake, the Kelvin River, located in Glasgow, Scotland, Kelvin Cooperage began to serve distilleries throughout parts of Europe in 1963.
Patriarch Ed McLaughlin decided to open the business shortly after completing an intensive five-year apprenticeship as a cooper. He based the business on doing things the old-fashioned way, even if that way took longer, thereby producing fewer barrels than other cooperages who had "advanced" to more modern techniques that sacrificed the quality of the vessels produced.
As time went on, Kelvin Cooperage rose in ranks amongst its peers, becoming one of the most respected cooperages in the world. Kelvin became the premier cooperage in Scotland, Ireland, and other areas globally by cornering the market on taking used, damaged barrels from around the globe and refurbishing them for use in Scottish distilleries for the purpose of expertly aging scotch.
As time progressed, McLaughlin's sons went on to study the family business, completing their own apprenticeships as coopers. Eventually, brothers Kevin and Paul would take the company's reins. While they brought in some more modern business ideas when they took the helm, they did not do so to the detriment of their product's quality.
One area of change that accompanied the company's leadership shift was its location. Because most of the barrels sourced by the company came from the heart of bourbon country in America, the company relocated to Louisville, Kentucky in 1991.
In just a few short years, by 1995, the company began manufacturing its own barrels sourced from the area's finest oak, enhancing its already stellar reputation as one of the most respected cooperages in the world.
Though initially the cooperage mainly constructed barrels for wine production, this was a very seasonal venture and the company eventually began shifting its focus to working with the area's craft bourbon distilleries. They quickly cemented their position as a cooperage that based its product on quality rather than quantity.
What a difference a day (or two) makes
While there is no doubt that Kelvin Cooperage could be in line with the larger, more corporate cooperages that mass-produce barrels to send out huge numbers, Kelvin has managed to find a happy middle-ground, incorporating modern technology with their time-tested, hands-on method of production.
Today, larger cooperages use a method to char their barrels that cut corners in order to increase production. The barrels are charred through the use of gas-fed flames, and they are then aged for a set period of time, keeping production at a steady pace.
Kelvin Cooperage, however, uses an age-old method for infusing char into their barrels. An experienced cooper is tasked with ensuring that the barrels are charred to perfection through his expertise and instinct. Through their trained sense of sight and smell, a barrel is only deemed ready when the cooper determines that the wood has both the look and aroma necessary to be approved.
This production method sets Kelvin Cooperage apart from its competitors, making them a staple in the industry and arguably the most trusted, reliable producers of barrels.
You can't rush perfection
Over the course of the last six decades, Kelvin Cooperage has managed to build a reputation that has set it apart from its competitors, making it one of the most in-demand cooperages in the industry. Though it relocated from its home in Scotland to the center of the bourbon production world, it did not lose its family's old-fashioned values in the move.
With its ability to meld modern technology with traditional, uncompromising methods of production, Kelvin Cooperage has remained at the forefront of the cooperage industry for over 60 years. The company does not show signs of wavering from providing a personal touch to every barrel they produce.
Their connection to the belief that humans, rather than machines, are best equipped to determine when perfection is reached sets them apart from the rest, allowing them to contribute to the production of some of the world's best bourbon.