Bourbon barrels from Kentucky find new use as rain barrels in Minnesota

NEW LONDON -- American white oak barrels that stored some of the country's finest bourbon made in Kentucky will now be collecting rain water in northern Kandiyohi County.

Conservation by the barrel load
Mike Pierson of Lake Andrew arranges a group of oak rain barrels distrubuted to residents of Lake Andrew, Games Lake and Norway Lake. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

NEW LONDON -- American white oak barrels that stored some of the country's finest bourbon made in Kentucky will now be collecting rain water in northern Kandiyohi County.

On Saturday 100 bourbon whiskey barrels that were modified with a filter at the top and a spigot at the bottom were distributed to lakeshore residents from Norway Lake, Games Lake and Lake Andrew as part of the Shakopee Creek Headwaters project to reduce rainwater runoff and improve lake water quality.

Capturing some of the rooftop rain can help keep lakes healthier, said Jennifer Hoffman, watershed specialist with the Chippewa River Watershed Project who coordinated the rain barrel program for residents who live in the Shakopee Creek headwaters area, which flows into the Chippewa River.

Besides reducing runoff from impervious surfaces, residents can benefit from the rain barrels by reusing the rain water for gardens, she said.

Cate Giroux, who lives on Lake Andrew, was eager to get a barrel for her home.


"I'm big into conservation and back to nature," she said.

The solid oak barrels, which weigh about 160 pounds, were a hot item.

Pickup trucks filled the parking lot and lined the roads to the Lake Andrew Town Hall.

When a semi arrived with the second load of barrels the crowd gathered close to claim a barrel.

When the rear semi door was pushed up a strong waft of bourbon poured out.

The barrels were used only one time to store a single batch of Kentucky bourbon, said Elena Kotowski, from the Barrel Depot in Shakopee.

The onetime use is a law enacted by Congress in 1964 that says whisky can't be called "bourbon" unless it's made in the U.S. with a specific bourbon formula.

Part of that formula is that the brew must be stored in brand new American-grown white oak barrels that have been charred, or fired, inside, according to a website for Kentucky Barrels LLC.


Kotowski said many used American bourbon barrels are shipped to other countries, like Ireland, that reuse them to make whiskey that can't be called bourbon.

But her company has a contract to purchase truck loads of these once-used Kentucky bourbon barrels.

She finds new uses and new markets for them.

"We're able to repurpose them," Kotowski said. "They're in good condition."

Kotowski said she got into the business because she wanted a rain barrel to help conserve water but she didn't want the typical plastic barrel that's sold commercially. She wanted something that would look nice beside her Victorian-style home, she said.

The rain barrels, which are equipped with a plastic filter at the top that strains out leaves and other debris, and a sturdy metal spigot at the bottom that connects to a hose, retail for $190, Kotowski said.

The barrels were purchased by the Chippewa River Watershed Project at a wholesale cost of $99. A Clean Water Partnership grant that was obtained in connection with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency helped pay 75 percent of the cost, Hoffman said.

Residents paid the remaining share, which was $25 a barrel.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
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