Over 150 Years of Working With Wood
The name ‘Barrels & Billets’ is a nod to Hillerich & Bradsby Co.’s history and connection with wood. That connection goes back more than a century and a half, when J. Frederick Hillerich immigrated to America from Germany on October 7, 1842 and eventually moved to Louisville. Once there, he opened his own wood shop. At the time, part of his business included barrel making for the growing Bourbon industry. In 1884, the family company jumped into the baseball bat business. “Billets” refers to the thick, cylindrical pieces of wood that are used at Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory to make baseball bats.
J. Frederick Hillerich, circa 1914.
It’s All About The Wood
It’s been long understood that 70% of the flavor and 100% of the smoothness of bourbon comes from the interaction of whiskey and wood. Great whiskey is created when the spirit soaks into the barrel during the warmth of the day and summer months then comes out of the wood during cool nights and winters. The result is a chain reaction of transformations in the whiskey that takes it from raw and rough to complex and smooth.
After some exploratory experiments we quickly learned that the key to success was not to change the natural process of wood and whiskey – through chemicals, unique energy sources or biochemistry – but rather to simply reduce variation in the natural whiskey aging process. To do this, we designed and built special equipment that allows us to manage the heating and cooling within a tenth of a degree. The result is a level of quality control that helps us achieve amazing flavors.
The 1800’s: The Golden Age of Custom Whiskey
In the 1800s, most whiskey was purchased from whiskey merchants who were barrel blenders. They would buy whiskey from farmers and distillers alike. Then, they would blend various barrels together to unlock different tastes depending on their customers’ preferences.
In Louisville, barrel blenders lined Main Street with even more all over the world. Even Scotland’s Johnnie Walker was a barrel blender!
Today, with our unique blending experience, we are returning custom bourbon to its origins in the 1800s. Put another way, we are returning bourbon to being, “Of the People – By the People – For the People.”