I love the barrel aging process and the great bourbon it creates. When researching barrels, you commonly hear about keeping up with demand by running 24/7 and creating hundreds of barrels at a time.  However, it is not often you hear the terms prime oak, fire bent staves, and a determination of hand made detail that comes from an artisan and not a factory.

Image of barrel tools at Croze Nest Cooperage
Barrel making tools at the Croze Nest Cooperage in West Michigan.

Croze Nest Barrels is an artisan cooperage located in West Michigan on the site of an old established apple farm. Joseph Smith is a visionary who decided to pursue a dream to build the best barrels he could for the spirits industry. An innovative way for distillers to separate their product from the many mass-produced whiskeys out there is to age them in a custom, handmade barrel from Croze Nest.

One of my first questions for Joe was the origin of the name Croze Nest? As he explained, the croze is a groove cut into both ends of a barrel to accommodate the fit of the barrel head. It is a great name, suitable for an artisan making his mark in the industry. You see, multiple distillers are using his high-quality handcrafted barrels to separate their spirits from others. Long Road distillers have already released a product aged in a Croze Nest barrel. I had the opportunity to sample the bourbon and was not disappointed.

Bottle of Long Road Distillers Straight Bourbon
A bottle of Long Road Distillers straight bourbon aged in Croze Nest barrel number 1.

Custom barrel making

There is something inherently magical in watching a barrel come to life, especially by old fashioned methods.  Not to say that some automatic equipment is not involved in the machining of the wood, but these are truly hand made in a real sense.  Barrels are charred over open fires, using fire bent staves instead of steam-bent, along with a desire to make the very best barrels possible.  Typical barrel sizes manufactured at Croze Nest are 53 gallons and 30-gallon barrels.

All of his oak is sourced from one location to ensure that there is consistency in the wood, as well as the outdoor seasoning of the oak — this attention to detail matters at Croze Nest. Croze Nest Barrels is an artisan cooperage that will provide multiple distillers with many barrel options in the future.  Bourbon is an American spirit and can be made anywhere in the United States. Finding a custom barrel maker in Michigan is a great opportunity to see a  glimpse of the American entrepreneurial spirit. If you visit Long Road Distillers in Grand Rapids, tell them you want to try their straight bourbon aged in a Croze Nest Barrel. Before long, you will be able to sample spirits from many distillers that are aged in a custom barrel made by Joseph Smith. It will be another step on your American whiskey journey.

Multiple barrels at Croze Nest
Croze Nest Barrels.