Sitting down with Jack Daniel’s’ Kevin Sanders, aka, ‘The Barrel Man’

5/8/2017

They call him “The Barrel Man.” It’s a nickname that has stuck since Kevin Sanders first stepped foot in the Jack Daniel’s distillery.

 

“I’ve always been intrigued by barrels,” Sanders said. “I lived real close to the distillery, so I just went over there one day and asked to get involved. So basically that’s kind of how it happened. I just showed up.”

 

Sanders’ journey as a barrel expert started 22 years ago with Jack Daniel’s, first observing the Coopers on the ground floor of the saw mills.

 

“I wanted to learn every aspect of barrel-making and learn about every role that touches the barrel,” Sanders said.

 

We were thrilled to recently catch up with Sanders at WhiskyFest to drill a bit deeper into the barrel-making process at Jack Daniel’s.

 

Tell us about your role at Jack Daniel’s.

Kevin “The Barrel Man” Sanders: I’m “The Barrel Man.” I love giving people the story of our Jack Daniel’s barrels. One of my jobs at the distillery is to reverse engineer the barrels to make souvenirs out of the used barrels.

 

What kind of wood do you use for the barrels? Tell us about the barrel-making process.  

White Oak. In the past, we’ve used Maplewood once or twice, but now we just use White Oak because it has a special characteristic in it that helps the whiskey not go through the wood during the aging process. The most important part of the barrels is the milling-making process. Once you mill the wood down and get all of the angles correct, we steam the barrels and then pull them together. You have to make sure you have high-quality wood. We can’t have wood that has any impurities – no knots or anything. The wood that we use typically comes from a 40- or 50-year-old trees.

 

How do the barrels differ for different expressions of Jack Daniel’s?

There’s different things that we’re able to do to the barrels. For instance, Sinatra Select – we groove the barrels, which we only do for about 10% of our barrels. Sometimes we triple toast the barrels. We did that for the 150th Jack Daniel’s batch to put in that little extra bit of effort that you taste in the whiskey. You can see the difference in barrels like this on the inside. On the outside, it looks the same as our other ones. On the inside, there is a science in there. I like to say those barrels are all “Jack’d up.”

 

Jack Daniel’s has been around for 150 years. In your opinion, what has changed about Jack Daniel’s throughout the years?

Absolutely nothing. And that’s a good thing. We make Jack just like how Jack Daniel made Jack back in 1866. It’s just a great Tennessee whiskey.  

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