While the U.S. craft beer scene has seen a revival over the years, interest is building for another age-old tradition: small batch distilling.
Deep South Barrels sells miniature charred American white oak barrels to amateur home distillers, craft bars and small distilleries around the country. Every barrel is customizable—from the wood engraving to the level of wood toast and char.
The business began as a passion project of founding partner Randall Bentley that took off in 2010. Deep South Barrels hit the road, setting up shop at regional festivals before making its big break in 2011 when it was invited to be a vendor at the Houston Live Stock Show and Rodeo.
“That changed everything for us,” said Miranda Knerr, chief operating officer at Deep South Barrels.
Bentley and a team of employees are on the road through most of the year hitting as many as 17 major trade shows across the U.S. in addition to local and regional fairs. However, the team’s home base remains in Pearland. Overall, the store can go through 40,000 barrels a year, including a flurry of orders in time for the holiday season.
“We’re starting to gear up for Christmas,” Knerr said. “It gets so overwhelming. We tell customers when we meet on the road you want to order in October or November to make sure you’re going to get it for Christmas.”
Deep South Barrels also sells liquor flavor essences for homemade moonshine. Home distillers can combine a cheap, neutral liquor with an essence—brandy, liqueur, rum, schnapps or whiskey flavorings—prior to barrel-aging the mixture.
“It will create a dead-on taste match,” Knerr said. “When you go to the liquor store and you’re buying whatever whiskey or Scotch or rum that you’re buying, you’re not paying for the alcohol. You’re paying for the way it tastes.”
Liquor is not the only thing that can be barrel-aged. Knerr has experimented with aged and liquor-infused balsamic vinegars, barbecue and hot sauces, tea and loose-leaf tobacco. Beers and wines can also be barrel-aged.
“It’s a fun process and a unique product,” Knerr said.