Barrel makers in high spirits throughout pandemic

Fort Mill, 02.08.2021

Consumption of alcoholic beverages during the pandemic changed. The hospitality industry took a huge hit as in-person dining became less of a reality. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), the industry “experienced solid growth in 2020” thanks to some creativity on behalf of state legislators to make curbside cocktails and to-go options a possibility.

The CEO and President of DISCUS, Chris Swonger, stated in a recent press release that the total volume of alcohol sales grew in 2020 despite the blow to the hospitality industry and stay-at-home orders nationwide.


Barrels make it possible

The process of producing wooden barrels is one that has been perfected over centuries. Individual strips of oak called staves are created and lined up vertically. They are then molded into the circular barrel shape and bound together in that shape using a series of metal hoops.

After the barrel has begun to take its traditional shape, the inside of the barrel is heated, or toasted, to seal the wood and allow the staves to be bent into the appropriate barrel shape. The rotund center of a wooden barrel allows it to be rolled efficiently while maintaining its structure.

wooden barrels stacked in storage cellar

Barrels are filled with spirits and stored on their sides.


American white oak: the wood used by cooperages nationwide

In the United States, most wooden barrels are made from American white oak. This type of wood is used because of its cellular makeup which gives the wood waterproof properties—ideal when storing liquids for long periods of time. White oak also breathes well, which is vital as oxygen is required for the distillation process.

These white oak barrels have been charred on the inside using fire and heat. This char gives the spirit its distinct taste. Each distillery has their own formula and flavor profile that comes from this process. Whiskey and bourbon manufacturers are specifically proud of the unique flavors of their brews, which are partially specified by the way the wooden barrel is toasted prior to being filled with the drink.

An oak barrel is toasted using fire.


It all starts with the stave

Stave production is both an art and a science. The geometry and uniformity of each individual stave is critical in making a structurally sound barrel that will successfully hold liquid in storage for years. Each stave begins as a solid piece of wood and is initially sent through a rip saw to cut it down to size. The stave is then further modified to have the slightly curved profile that is necessary for making the traditional cylindrical shape. Barrels bulge in the middle to make them easy to roll and store (this bulge is called the bilge), which is why each stave must be shaped appropriately.

The strips that are cut from either side of the original pieces of wood end up as a byproduct of this process. They tend to stack up and take up significant amounts of space. This is where WEIMA can help.

A stack of staves waits to be shaped into wooden barrels.


Hands-free wood waste management

WEIMA's horizontal wood grinders are frequently used in situations where rip saws are present in a production line. The strips that fall off the rip saw can be diverted directly into a horizontal wood grinder without being handled by staff. Using conveyors, this wood waste can be diverted directly into the infeed of the horizontal wood grinder. The shredded wood can then be hooked into an air system and delivered to a centralized dumpster behind the facility. Other discharge options include discharging onto a conveyor or using a screw auger to move the wood waste to another part of the plant. Less frequent handling of production scrap frees up your workshop space and your staff to do more productive things.

A WEIMA horizontal wood grinder can shred linear wood waste efficiently.


One step further: A second chance for used barrels

For producing spirits like whiskey and bourbon, the barrels may only be used once. They are, however, reused by distillers of other products who are not bound by this one-time-only standard. Craft breweries and other types of distilleries can reuse these casks because the process is not so strictly specified.

A cooper gathers wooden staves into classic barrel shape.

Additional Information


More than 35,000 machines sold worldwide! WEIMA has been manufacturing robust shredders and briquetting presses for the disposal and processing of all types of waste for more than four decades. Our machines include single-shaft shredders, four-shaft shredders, cutting mills and briquette presses. The popular blood orange machines are used in the wood, plastics, paper, metal and waste-to-energy industries.

Made in Germany. Built for the world.

Shredders and briquette presses from WEIMA are exclusively made in Germany and come from production plants in Saxony-Anhalt and Baden-Wuerttemberg. Every year, more than 300 employees work on around 1,200 customer solutions from around the globe. We have long-standing sales and service locations in the USA, Poland, India and China. More than 80 representatives supplement this global presence.

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