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Photo by Chris Casella
Photo by Chris Casella

Life After Bourbon

A bourbon barrel is something like a living piece of art, part paintbrush and part canvas. It’s active in the distillation process, infusing color, character, and flavor into the whiskey, and it’s also a work of distinctive craftsmanship, always made from American white oak, yet each one unique. Then it’s used, one time and one time only, and it’s no longer fit for its primary function, relegated to making Canadian whiskey, or sent to Scotland for scotch-making, or South America for rum and tequila.

That’s when CJ and Curt Shaver step in and spare the barrels the indignity of such a lesser purpose.

The brothers own and operate Columbus Barrel Co., a two-year-old business venture that takes once-used bourbon barrels and transforms them into handmade, rustic, often gorgeous products – end tables, display cases, clocks, and customized furniture and bars.

Barrel Co. began when the Shavers’ father, who owned a kitchen design and cabinet installation company, commissioned CJ to build a Western-themed bar for a networking event. CJ tapped his brother Curt, who was living in Lexington, Kentucky, to help him find bourbon barrels so he could achieve the aged, whiskey-soaked look he wanted. After securing a supplier, the fourth-generation woodworkers eventually decided to explore the range of products they could create from the barrels. They started making furniture for family and friends, and word-of-mouth spread from there.

“The bourbon barrels themselves are just so unique,” CJ said. “They’ve got a lot of history behind them. You know, some of these barrels that we’re using are probably 20, 30 years old.”

The 53-gallon barrels all come from major Kentucky distilleries like Four Roses, Woodford Reserve, and Maker’s Mark. The insides are charred, which gives the whiskey its color (the deeper the char, the darker the whiskey), and sometimes the exteriors feature intriguing stains caused by bourbon leaks that have caramelized. The patina of each barrel is singular, a fact the Shavers try to reflect in their products, and though the rounded edges and natural curves of the barrel heads and staves pose challenges for woodworking, they also lend an original character to each piece. 

Here we’ve highlighted a handful of Columbus Barrel Co.’s most popular and interesting products.

Shot Flight $49  What better way to enjoy a selection of fine bourbons than in a flight of shots laid out on a board made from a bourbon barrel? Bonus points if you can determine the origin of the barrel and pour your first round from that distillery.

Pub-Table Stool Set $550  And where better to drink the aforementioned selection than at a pub-style table fashioned from the heads and staves of the barrels? This set is one of Barrel Co.’s most popular products, and additional seats can be purchased for $125 each.

Wall-Mount Wine Rack $150  For those who’d like to quaff more than whiskey, this wine rack suspends five bottles in the air while reserving space for additional bottles on the shelf in the rear. The glass stem-holder on the underside creates an all-in-one station for oenophiles.

Double Edison Lamp $175  What’s better than one Edison? Two, of course. This light fixture looks antiquated enough to date back to the era when Edison invented his light bulb, while being fashionable enough to fit into any modern home.

Bourbon Barrel Sunglasses $120  The first product that Barrel Co. outsourced due to the precise cuts required, this trendy accessory provides sturdiness to the Wayfarer design and allows the wearer to see the world through booze-colored glasses.

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