ISC Kentucky Cooperage

Kentucky Cooperage makes Lebanon the "Bourbon Barrel-Makin Capital" of Kentucky

Cooper / noun / make or repair (a cask or barrel).  ~New Oxford American Dictionary

 Oh, come on now. A Kentucky Cooperage cooper in Lebanon, KY,  making a barrel is much more than that.

Let’s try this… .

It’s one of the oldest professions in the world. When the Mayflower sailed to the New World, the art of coopering was an old, established profession. John Alden was cooper of the Mayflower, and was one of the most valuable craftsmen on board.

Kentucky Cooperage, in Lebanon, is a subsidiary of Independent Stave Company, often referred to as ISC. From humble beginnings in the Missouri Ozarks, ISC used innovation, hard work and high quality customer service to become a worldwide leader in today’s coopering industry. Currently, it’s the fourth generation of the Boswell family that continues to grow ISC’s presence throughout the world.

Using responsible, sustainable logging practices, harvested white oak logs are processed in ISC-owned stave mills. That’s where the logs are debarked, cut lengthwise into “bolts,” and then split into four quarter bolt sections that will be processed into rough staves—those long “panels” that compose the body of a barrel.

Skilled craftsmen inspect and make the final cuts on those rough staves, turning them into staves that meet ISC standards, and then they’re stacked for seasoning. You’ll see many stacks of those staves seasoning in the Bluegrass state’s climate when you arrive at Kentucky Cooperage for your tour…which we’ll learn more about in just a moment.

“Video by (Kentucky Department of Tourism).”

Wow! What's going on inside?

Remember those staves we left outside seasoning?

Let’s bring ‘em inside.

And let’s see if we can turn them into world-class quality barrels that will hold liquid. In this case, bourbon produced by Kentucky’s booming bourbon industry.

Inside Kentucky Cooperage a community of workers:

~Use equipment—equalizers, planers and jointers—to trim stave ends, plane smooth the surfaces, and joint the stave sides, so they’ll fit together tightly.

~Then workers “raise” the barrel. In short, workers eyeball-select and loosely assemble all the best-fitting staves they think make the perfect barrel shape. Trust us. It’s a talent. And you thought a Rubik’s Cube was tough.

~”Raised,” loosely assembled barrels are sent through a steam tunnel. That makes them pliable, and temporary hoops are added to curve the staves into the barrel shape.

~Next comes the part that’s the favorite of most folks on a tour: The fire. It’s actually called a charring process. In bourbon barrel making language: lighter levels of char show more fruit esters and spice notes in a white oak barrel; darker char levels extract more vanilla flavors and color to the spirit.

At Kentucky Cooperage, workers actually char barrels to each individual customer’s specifications. Bourbon makers actually include the barrel char “specifications” to be part of their particular bourbon’s recipe.

Oh, did we mention…this is a science.

~And after charring, workers do final assembly: top and bottom “heads” and six steel hoops are added. A bung hole is drilled. But before the process is declared “done,” all Kentucky Cooperage barrels are rigorously tested with water and air pressure to make sure that barrel is liquid tight.

Kentucky Cooperage in Lebanon KY
Charred Barrel from Kentucky Cooperage in Lebanon KY

The Tours

Kentucky Cooperage tours, in Lebanon, the Heart of Kentucky, is the hottest ticket on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and the Bourbon Trail Craft Tour.

“Bourbon fans are very interested in how ISC barrels are crafted,” says Ann Daugherty, tour guide at Kentucky Cooperage. “I have given tours to groups from all over the world, and I take pride in introducing Kentucky Cooperage to them”

Even folks who aren’t bourbon fans flock to Kentucky Cooperage to enjoy the tour because the coopering profession is seeped in history, and the entire process of barrel making is so darn interesting, colorful and exciting.

Tours are available Monday through Friday, and demand is huge. That’s why it’s recommended you purchase your tickets online, in advance, although it is possible to buy tickets upon arrival.

By purchasing your tickets in advance online you’re assured of the time and day you prefer. Tours do sell out, and you’re taking a bit of a chance by waiting to purchase tickets upon arrival.

Monday through Friday
9 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m.

To book your tour online go here:

Kentucky Cooperage, Lebanon

“Video by (Kentucky Department of Tourism).”