Whiskey Brewery Using Ancient Craft to Create New Flavors

by Megan Molseed
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Updated technology doesn’t always beget quality. In fact, in some cases, an ancient tried-and-true method is often the way to go. This is certainly the case for one Minnesota father-daughter team that makes whiskey using a classic method and ancient technique. A method and technique that has been getting the dedicated duo, daughter Heidi Korb and father Russ Karsh, noticed all over the globe.

The Black Swan Cooperage in Park Rapids Minnesota starts its process creating its unique flavors beginning with a simple ingredient, flavorful wood. This, the duo says, gives their whiskey flavors unlike those of other whiskey brands.

The Unique Practice Has Brought Major Recognition To Family-Run Whiskey Brewery

Since stepping into the whiskey business in 2009, the father-daughter cooper team has delivered whiskey barrels to all 50 states and even 11 different countries. In fact, the unique business kept busy even during the pandemic. Even while the country was facing a wood shortage.

Part of the reason behind this is because of the process the Black Swan Cooperage uses woods that have become uncommon for whiskey brewing. This, of course, is because the company selects woods that will provide unique and optimum whiskey flavors for their customers.

“It starts with white oak,” says Russ of the process.

“There are two reasons why it tastes good and it doesn’t leak,” Heidi notes.

“A lot of the flavor in your whiskey comes from the barrel,” Heidi explains.

“Some might say that at least 80% of it comes from barrels,” the whiskey expert continues.

A Unique Technique Adds A Flavorful Flair

While there are multiple different ways for whiskey brewers to shape a barrel for whiskey. However, Black Swan Cooperage has a specific technique for their barrels. This technique, which is called water bending, requires the whiskey makers to put the barrel staves in water that can get as hot as 160 degrees.

“That heats up the wood so that it makes it more pliable and easier for us to bend into that barrel shape,” Heidi notes of the process. Then, once the metal rings are added to the barrel, the Black Swan whiskey experts begin the important process that will seal in the flavors.

“The main difference between a wine and a whiskey barrel is that a wine barrel is just toasted and a whiskey barrel typically is just charred,” Heidi explains adding that at Black Swan they do both. Usually toasting a barrel for over an hour before charring it.

“It’s really all about the flavor,” Heidi continues. “And when it smells right, that’s when it’s done.”

“Instead of putting the spirit in the barrel, we’re trying to put the barrel, or the wood, in the spirit,” Russ explains.

Some of the equipment used for this 3,000-year-old process at the distillery is as much as 100 years old. The process may be an intense one, but it’s worth it in the end. Especially with the new generation of whiskey drinkers looking for new and inventive flavors.

“The young people are demanding new flavors,” says Russ.

“We’re able to produce some really, really unique products that help our distilleries do that,” the whiskey maker continues. “It’s a fun and exciting time.”