From the MiTek series on the American Craftsman, comes the story of the barrel-making Boswell family. This story comes from the visual storytelling artist, Tadd Myers, a photographer who has captured the heart of the American craftsman in a pictorial masterpiece.
Born in the Missouri Ozarks in 1912, the Independent Stave Company has been in business for over one hundred years—with the exception of Prohibition of course. That’s four generations of expertise for the Boswell family.
The family handles the entire barrel-making process. They own their own stave mills. Sprinkler systems preserve the white oak logs until they’re ready to be made into staves. Craftsmen debark the logs, then pass them through a metal detector to check for impurities in the wood. They cut the logs into bolts. They split the bolts into four quarter bolt sections that will become the staves. Then they “season” the staves in the open air.
Craftsmen “raise the barrel,” or fit staves together to create the skeleton outline of the barrel. Once raised, barrels go through the steam tunnel and are temporarily hooped. Customers can have barrels “toasted” or “charred.” These affect the flavor of the alcohol. Light charring adds fruity and spicy flavors. Darker charring adds vanilla flavors.
Placing the heads and hoops makes a barrel. Each barrel consists of six hoops and a top and bottom head. Then makers will drill a bung hole. To ensure quality control, testers add water and air pressure to the completed barrels to make sure they’re ready for their task.
What sets the Independent Stave Company apart may be their commitment to sustainability. They understand the importance of protecting their most valuable resource. They keep a close watch on the national supplies of white oak. Currently white oak is the second fastest growing hardwood resource. The cooperage uses both the select white oak and eastern sawtimber varieties of the species. They use 100% of every log they purchase, to ensure no waste is produced. They also make use of the bark for fuel and landscape products and sawdust for fuel and charcoal.
With their broad portfolio of clients, the barrel makers of the Independent Stave Company could be the unsung heroes of the liquor industry. So the next time you kick back with a drink, thank the craftsmanship of the hard-working men and women of the Boswell family.
This story was sourced from the American Craftsman Project website, with permission by the author, Tadd Myers. MiTek appreciates the heart of the American craftsman – the men and women who perform their work according to principles of integrity, hard work, quality and a desire to forge something that will create not just a lasting product, but a lasting relationship.