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A world leader

To best meet clients' needs, the owners of Kelvin Cooperage strive to obtain the best oak and use the most current machinery while remaining true to time-tested traditional cooperage techniques.

Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville, Ky., rolls out the barrels by the thousands.

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The business was founded by Ed McLaughlin in 1963 in Glasgow, Scotland, and relocated in 1991 to Kentucky and its famed Bourbon Country in Louisville, near the supply of the finest American oak for wine barrel production. Kelvin now supplies wine barrels to leading wineries throughout the United States and Australia.

The company has 50 employees and produces up to 10,000 new wine barrels a year. Thousands of used barrels are also sold.

Paul McLaughlin joined the family business in 2001 to focus on growing the wine barrel clientele. Clients are primarily winery owners from throughout the world, though barrels are requested for distillers of other spirits on occasion. He attributes the success of the business to rigorous quality-control inspections, starting with wood selection to air and water testing of the finished barrel.

"We're very hands-on. It's just the three of us running things, so we can pay attention to every barrel that's going out the door," says McLaughlin.

McLaughlin says he most enjoys being able to use modern woodworking equipment, while also using traditional handcrafting skills. The bending, steaming and assembly tasks are especially challenging because these construction techniques will determine whether the barrels can sustain future transport and use.

"You're essentially trying to make a water-tight vessel out of wood and you're also shipping it long distances. When we ship to Australia, it will leave here in the middle of winter, to arrive there in heat of their summer, so you're asking a lot of the wood to travel those distances and stay tight."

The barrel heads are assembled using wooden dowels in the old cognac style. Barrels are also available with or without toasted heads. Six galvanized hoops are fitted to maintain maximum structural integrity. Wood species offered include new American oak barrels, which start at $350 apiece; as well as French oak barrels, which start at $750 apiece.

Contact: Kelvin Cooperage, 1103 Outer Loop, Louisville, KY 40219. Tel: 502-366-5757.

This article originally appeared in the July 2010 issue.

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