Brad Boswell on Bourbon Pursuit Podcast
In October Independent Stave Company CEO Brad Boswell sat down at Kentucky Cooperage with the guys of Bourbon Pursuit Podcast to discuss the cooperage industry.
He had fun discussing his family history in the cooperage industry, trends and many different aspects of Independent Stave Company during the interview – which begins around the 8:00 minute mark.
Bourbon Pursuit: Talk about growing up in the industry - how did you get introduced into it?
Brad: I grew up in the business - I say I'm a 47 year veteran [of the business] - so all my life I grew up in the business. Probably age 9 was my first job working for my father and grandfather stacking staves in the stave yard. Well, we were kind of stacking staves and we were also making little forts out of our staves. It was probably more trouble than it was worth [having us there].
Bourbon Pursuit: How has your family been able to maintain the business all these years?
Brad: Our typical M.O. has just been to focus. We try to be the best in the world at one thing and not get too involved in other businesses. We figure we're maybe just smart enough to be good at the barrel business and maybe not smart enough to do everything else so we just bear down and focus on the barrel business.
Bourbon Pursuit: Has whiskey always been the hallmark for the company?
Brad: I'd say Kentucky bourbon is kind of the foundation of the business. My great-grandfather, at the early turn of the century, was making a lot of staves for beer barrels before the aluminum kegs. [...] but for the past 80 years at least, since prohibition, it has been whiskey. And then wine got more popular in the 90s up to today.
Bourbon Pursuit: When you think of cooperages, there's only one distillery that has their own. A lot of people source from you and there's other competition but you're the top of the pyramid up here.
Brad: I think we're fortunate to have a lot of good customers and we do supply a lot of distilleries [...] But it is interesting because they don't all take the same barrels. We make different barrels for different customers so while we supply a lot of the major players and a lot of the craft players you'd be shocked by how many types of barrels we make - we make bespoke barrels all the time.
Bourbon Pursuit: What does it look like if you meet with us as potential new clients? Where do we start?
Brad: We make sure we’re talking about the same thing and then we narrow down what your preference is. How much smoke do you want, how much vanillin do you want, how much toastiness do you want. Do you want it to remain estery and fruity or do you want it to be kind of fatter – more chocolate and mocha. Once we start talking about a language we start making samples – barrels or pieces of wood that are toasted and charred to what we think will work and we start tasting and trialing. We start here and narrow down until we get the profile exactly how you want for your existing products or new products.
Bourbon Pursuit: Between Missouri and Kentucky cooperage - what can one do that the other can't?
Brad: Fred's been with me to the cooperage in Missouri and it's kind of like the Disney World of oak. We make all kinds of barrels for bourbons, wines, tequilas, rums, pisco, shochu; and all kinds of barrels so it's a very complex offering of barrels there. In Kentucky we make more like 10-12 types of barrels primarily.
Bourbon Pursuit: I work in tech, and you've got this idea of manufacturing and having a process that you know is repeatable, that you can basically streamline a lot. However it seems like you guys are really focused on innovation. Why even go towards innovation and not just say, "listen, here's four buckets - choose one of these buckets because we're not going out of our way to do any thing else. Why even going down the innovation route?
Brad: [...] Because we don't try to say here's what we have we hope you like it. We try to say what do you need, what do you want and then we'll make that for you. What's your target? What's your objective, we'll help you meet that objective.
Bourbon Pursuit: What are the things that you guys are experimenting with or playing with?
Brad: You asked about Missouri vs Kentucky. [At] our cooperage in Missouri we have a big area where we toast barrels and every barrel is hooked up to a computer and we’re measuring the time and temperature of that barrel constantly throughout the process and creating these very unique flavor profiles by controlling temperature over time. We can’t toast enough barrels like that. If you talk about limitations or waiting lists, for some of those really long toasted or specially toasted barrels, that has taken off. And it’s not because it’s better - it’s different. Especially as people are doing more finishing products [...].