A New Journey Begins with a Barrel Fill

A New Journey Begins with a Barrel Fill

By Andrew Wiehebrink

The James B. Beam Institute at the University of Kentucky hosted their 5th annual industry conference last week.  The event continues to expand each year since the inaugural conference in 2020, with more sessions and over 1,000 people attending.

This year proved to be even more special, not only for the conference, but for the industry as a whole. The 2024 conference culminated with the filling of the very first barrel of new-make whiskey produced at the on campus distillery. Faculty, staff, and industry professionals gathered to watch the first batch of rye bourbon enter the barrel. 


ISC team members Andrew Wiehebrink, Josh Evans, Mike Knudson, Maurizio Petito, and Jordan Hinton


ISC CEO Brad Boswell and JBB Institute Director Seth DeBolt


James B. Beam Master Distiller Fred Noe

The immeasurable hard work of many went into this glorious and very ‘Kentucky’ moment and the magnitude of this achievement for everyone in the industry will be felt for generations to come.  The bourbon industry has long needed a place where students can learn every aspect of what it takes to produce delicious spirits from grain to bottle. 

These on-the-job experiences will lead to a well-equipped workforce, bringing with it better research and better whiskey.

About the Barrel

The first barrel filled was an ISC American white oak barrel, which was crafted at Kentucky Cooperage in Lebanon, Kentucky.  People have been curious to know if there was anything unique about the treatment given to the barrel. While it did get sanded and some beautiful laser branding work on the head, the barrel was our standard 3-6 month seasoned, char #4 barrel which we call our Classic Whiskey barrel.

The char #4 (or alligator char) barrel is synonymous with Kentucky bourbon and is the barrel of choice for many of our wonderful Kentucky distillers, including Jim Beam. When it came time to select the perfect barrel for the first fill, this barrel was the obvious choice.


What's to Come

We believe strongly in the work of the Institute and in 2020, ISC along with the Boswell family, donated $1 million to the University of Kentucky to further spirits research at the James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits. The gift funded a maturation facility for barrel aging spirit experiments produced in its research distillery.

While I can't reveal yet what the first experiment will be that goes into the Independent Stave Company – Boswell Family Barrel Warehouse, I will say that this will be the first of many experiments that will challenge and encourage students to reach for a greater understanding of what makes bourbon, bourbon.

It was truly a special week here in the Bluegrass State and a testament to the dedication of numerous individuals who made this vision a reality.



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