Ever since I’ve been into bourbon, I’ve always wanted a barrel. But up until recently I hadn’t really thought about what I would do with one. In the Spring of 2021, I met up with three other Bourbon & Banter team members in Louisville to pick six barrels over two days.
My absolute favorite barrel from the trip was the Full Proof 1792. So much so, that after the trip I requested the barrel from that pick. A few months later, the bottles from our selections arrived and my barrel shipped with it. I finally got my barrel, but now what?
After doing extensive research online, I decided to take my barrel and convert it into a cabinet/barrel bar. The problem was, the only experience I have with bourbon barrels is picking ones filled with bourbon, not cutting doors in them and installing hinges and shelves.
Turns out that many claim to be able to do such work, and talking with them, I had reservations about most. It’s one thing to just purchase a used bourbon barrel and have it converted into whatever you want, it’s another to trust a barrel that you picked with just anyone. When the barrel has some sentimental value to it, the stakes get a bit higher. If something went wrong, it’s not like I could just replace this barrel.
Through a local bourbon group, I learned of Timber Line Sierra Barrel Co. (TBSC), which was founded by Ric Holder in 2020. Like many businesses, Holder’s was born of a hobby and a project for his brother’s bar in Valparaiso, Ind. Today, the veteran-owned business has grown to a pace of customizing about 35 barrel cabinets monthly, in addition to benches, coffee tables, end tables, bar tables, stools, planters, custom lasered barrel heads, barrel staves and more.
Recently Holder opened a storefront under the name Cicero Barrel Co. in an old firehouse in downtown in Cicero, Ind. He personally selects every barrel he uses for his projects to be sure each is the best barrel for the project. Most of the barrels he gets are from Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee, but his favorite barrels to work with are from Heaven Hill. Why? Because they’re well constructed and tight fitting. (For what it’s worth, Heaven Hill uses barrels from Independent Stave Co. and McGinnis Wood Products.)
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Holder’s passion for the work is evident in his custom processes and his preference to work directly with customers. Instead of telling them what he thinks they want, asks for their vision of the project. He enjoys having people visit his workshop and see his small hometown of Cicero.
If you are just too far away to pop in for a visit, you may still be in luck because the business also delivers. This is a big benefit if you happen to be in the Midwest. If you know anything about bourbon barrels, they weigh more than 100 pounds empty, and they’re neither small nor easy to move. That usually means that the cost of shipping one to your home could cost as much as the barrel itself. Thankfully, he can coordinate a meet up in major cities in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan.
So, how did I like mine? I was thrilled with the detail and care that Holder put into my barrel project. We met and went over a plan to map out the project and my expectations. He went over options for finishes, hardware, doors, latch, as well as the overall look and feel of barrel. We agreed on a price, and he started on the project. He provided lots of updates and pictures of the process via text. A few weeks later he let me know my barrel was ready to be picked up. Check out the before and after pictures in this article.
If you have always wanted a customized whiskey barrel but weren’t sure how to get one, Cicero Barrel Co. is a good place to start.
Brent was born and raised in Indianapolis, IN. After graduating from the University of Kansas with a degree in Journalism, he moved back to Indy where he eventually resurrected his family's brand of all beef kosher style hot dogs and opened a restaurant, King David Dogs, in downtown Indianapolis. When he's not juggling the many duties of an entrepreneur, he can usually be found relaxing at home with his wife, their twin boys, and their two dogs. Brent is a member of the Bourbon Society of Indianapolis, a BBQ enthusiast, and a cigar aficionado. Three things that are even better when enjoyed together with good friends. If Brent is not talking about bourbon, he's probably talking about sports, in particular, NFL football and Kansas Jayhawks basketball. You can follow his blog, BBQ and Bourbon here.
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