Used barrels from Kentucky bourbon distilleries

There is a hot demand for white oak from Kentucky’s forests, thanks to a flush of new distilleries and wineries in the state and their need for barrels. That’s one of the reasons Jeff Stringer, chair of the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, has been spreading the mantra of good management and encouraging woodland owners to use methods for long-term timber viability.

There is now another reason to follow sustainable practices. Markets are emerging that pay a premium price for certified products.

Irish Distillers, parent company of Jameson Whiskey, is a prime example of the expanding market for certified wood products. The company buys many used barrels from Kentucky bourbon distilleries, but now it is seeking fresh, unused casks through a certified supply chain for a new label of estate whiskey. That type of supply chain hasn’t existed until the Center for Forest and Wood Certification, directed by Stringer and housed in UK forestry extension, helped to make it happen.
Chain-of-Custody certification verifies both the woodland origin of the wood and wood products and the fact that they come from well-managed woodlands following the specifications of either the Forest Stewardship Council or the American Tree Farm system. For work with Irish Distillers, the center uses the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification, which is an internationally recognized certification system and allows the use of American Tree Farm wood.

Bobby Ammerman, F&NR extension associate, is in charge of the center's supply chain development. Ammerman has worked to ensure that certified logs are moved into a supply chain where every point of the chain is also certified. The Center for Forest and Wood Certification certifies landowners, forests, loggers, stave mills, and cooperages for Irish Distillers’ new label.

“We’re the only entity like this in the U.S. or in the world for that matter,” Stringer said. “Nobody else is doing what we’re doing, providing both dual certification for forest owners, chain of custody certification for forest industries, and helping develop certified supply chains with landowners, foresters, loggers, and the forest industry."

In November, 2018, the first cut of stave logs in the supply chain was made on a certified property in Boyle County. Under Ammerman's guidance, the first barrel in the queue should roll off the line this summer.

Used barrels from Kentucky bourbon distilleries

“There is a price premium that goes along with being certified, which can effectively benefit everyone in that supply chain,” Stringer explained. “That’s why we’re doing this, to help our industry, help our landowners, our loggers, our stave mills, and our cooperages.”

For now Irish Distillers’ chain-of-custody is contained within Kentucky, but Stringer said if Irish Distillers should ask for help outside of Kentucky, the center does that as well.

“Supply chains don’t end at the state line. That’s why we venture out, because these supply chains sometimes go three, four, five states away,” Stringer said. “Wood moves around.”

Certification on this scope benefits the state in two ways. It encourages good forest management, providing an important resource for generations to come. Certification also means, at each link of the supply chain, there are more possible clients, allowing companies to glean a larger market share.
“The opportunities are there,” Stringer said.

To learn about the Center for Wood and Forest Certification, visit online,

— Carol Lea Spence