The Bourbon District - The Barrel

Downtown St. Louis has the “Gateway Arch”, Atlanta has the Olympic “Fountain of Rings” and now Louisville, Kentucky’s Bourbon District has “The Barrel.”

The barrel plays a critical role in the making of America’s Native Spirit – Bourbon. Depending on which distiller you ask, the barrel accounts for 50% to 75% of a bourbons flavor and 100% of its color. Not only is the barrel a nice to have but it is required by law. According to the TTB, in order for whiskey to legally be called bourbon, it must be “stored in…charred new oak containers.” In other words, barrels matter.

Introducing “The Barrel”





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To celebrate the barrel and recognize its importance in the bourbon making process Louisville’s city leaders along with the Kentucky Distillers’ Association have unveiled, “The Barrel.” The Barrel, is a piece of public artwork designating the intersection of Fourth and Main Streets as the center of Louisville’s Bourbon District.

“The iconic Barrel will function as a gathering space for visitors to the Bourbon District, as well as serve as a new and exciting showpiece to celebrate the bourbon renaissance in Downtown Louisville,” said Rebecca Matheny, Executive Director of the Louisville Downtown Partnership.

The Barrel is part of the second phase of the cities Bourbon District. “The Barrel… is meant to be walked through, as if one is passing through the entire history of the bourbon industry,” said Cynthia Torp, President and Executive Director of Louisville-based Solid Light, Inc. who designed, created and installed The Barrel.

The new public artwork has five hoops — the two smallest hoops are 9’3” in height, 11’3” in width, progressing to two larger hoops that are 10’3” in height and 13’4” in width, with the middle hoop reaching 11’3” in height and 15’4” in width.

Hand-Crafted Wood-like Oak Staves

The materials used to create the enormous feature are meant to reflect those of an actual oak barrel. According to Mike Marnell, Fabrication Shop Foreman at Solid Light the concrete oak staves are made up of 90 hand-crafted pieces. Each piece weighs between 50 and 75 lbs. Marnell said, “We first laid down a bed of clay, carved each piece by hand and then poured and made a casting mold. We then laid all those out and made a bunch of different patterns. If you look, all of the end grain for each stave matches. The end grain on each stave continues as it would if you sliced a barrel stave. The pattern flows through on the front and the back.”

The outside is lined with corten steel, reflecting the metal hoops and rivets used on a bourbon barrel. You can already see the patina like it was actually aging in a rickhouse. The inside of the hoops are lined with a black powder coated aluminum, imitating the char (Perhaps a No. 4?) found in barrels after they are fired, an essential step in the bourbon-making process.

At the entrance of The Barrel is an interpretive sign that gives an overview of the bourbon industry in Downtown Louisville. The sign also includes a map showing all of the bourbon historical sites and attractions in the district.

How’d they Do That? A Collective Effort Between Industry and City Leaders

The Bourbon District is a collaborative effort led by Louisville Downtown Partnership, Louisville Metro Government, the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Louisville Water Company, in cooperation with Downtown’s bourbon community.

“Bourbonism® is thriving in Downtown Louisville, with four distillery experiences already open, and three more slated to open within the year.  Our hope is that ‘The Barrel’ becomes an iconic landmark photographed and shared all over the world, further defining Louisville as the home of the bourbon industry,” said Mayor Greg Fischer.

The Bourbon District Attractions

  1. Angel’s Envy Distillery
  2. Copper & Kings American Brandy Distillery
  3. Evan Williams Bourbon Experience
  4. Frazier History Museum – Kentucky Bourbon Trail Welcome Center & Exhibit opens in 2018
  5. Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse
  6. Kentucky Peerless Distilling
  7. Michter’s Distillery – Opening 2018
  8. Old Forester Distillery – Opening 2018
  9. Rabbit Hole Distilling – Opening 2018

The renaissance of bourbon has sparked tourism and development. “While Louisville’s bourbon story originated in the late 1700’s, it’s only been in the last decade that bourbon tourism has become a defining point of our city’s authenticity. We believe the Bourbon District helps share this cultural heritage with locals and visitors, and enhances their appreciation of Louisville’s unique destination experience,” said Karen Williams, Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO.

How Did They Do That? Building of “The Barrel”

The Barrel was created in the Solid Light workshop and as Mike Marnell told us, “It took a lot of math.” If you have ever tried to layout and cut your own block for a fire pit, you know getting the angles just right is not easy. Here’s a step by step process that shows The Barrel from the shop floor to marking the foundation on the street to its assembly and final completion just prior to the unveiling. Makers gotta make!

This is a beautiful example of piece of public art that supports the distilled spirits industry. Let the selfies begin!

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