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Editor’s note: As of publication, Crea is no longer in this position.
Bourbon barrels can only be used once for bourbon, but that doesn’t mean they end up in the landfill after they are dumped. There is a whole industry built around inspecting, repairing, and re-selling used barrels, and they end up being used for some really interesting things. Meet Schyler Crea, a bourbon barrel inspector for Kentucky Bourbon Barrel, LLC.
BW: What is your favorite thing about your job as a barrel inspector?
SC: My job is all about making decisions on what would be best for the used barrel before it goes to our customers. These are distilleries, wineries, and breweries all over the world that depend on the highest quality used barrel for their product, so I take a great deal of pride in this. As an inspector and cooperage lead, my job involves constant problem solving because each barrel has unique characteristics, so I am learning something new every day.
BW: What is the worst problem you’ve ever seen with a used bourbon barrel?
SC: There can be several issues with a used barrel. One issue is a leak, and used barrels need experts to fix them. This is why Kentucky Bourbon Barrel was founded. We have a full-service cooperage that inspects every single used barrel that comes through our doors to ensure our customers never see any of these issues. Our barrels are freshly dumped from the distilleries and can be damaged in their processes of transferring, storing, dumping, and loading. These, along with the used barrel’s age, can cause strain on the barrel to have a few staves crack and even drill holes from dumping. We replace these staves so they will no longer leak.
BW: What is something that might surprise people about used bourbon barrels?
SC: There have been several surprises over my time at Kentucky Bourbon Barrel. First, used barrels are sourced for so many things. Our barrels are used for rum, tequila, cognac, beer, wine, tobacco, coffee beans, hot sauce, syrup, and more. Additionally, they can be used for decades. We have seen barrels with a fill date from 1932.
BW: What advice do you have for women who want to start a career in the bourbon industry?
SC: Do not get discouraged. People may think you are not physically strong enough or that you will hate getting dirty every day. Let them underestimate you and then show them what you are made of. As for getting your foot in the door, you are likely going to have to start at the bottom. There are so many people who know more than you – talk to them and develop yourself into what you want to be.
BW: Tell me about your perfect whiskey weekend in Louisville.
Photos Courtesy of Kentucky Bourbon Barrel