Whiskey Nips: Frederick Stitzel

The Stitzel name is legendary in bourbon. It left its mark in history with the Pappy Van Winkle product lineup from the Stitzel-Weller Distillery. This distillery came about when W.L. Weller & Sons combined with the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery, started by Arthur Phillip Stitzel. Arthur’s brother, Frederick, also had a huge impact in bourbon history.

 

In 1879, Frederick patented a system that is still widely used in the bourbon world today. He came up with the idea for the tiered barrel racks. The current system at the time of stacking them directly on top of each other was not that great, as you can imagine. Quite a lot of problems can occur when you have 53-gallon barrels full of whiskey that weigh a few hundred pounds right on top of each other.

 

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His system consisted of what he called rails, basically small shelves, attached to heavy duty framing to support the weight. The rails would be spaced far enough apart, so that when a barrel is place on its side, each end would be supported by a rail. You could then easily roll a barrel all the way down to back. He also designed it so that they were made in independent sections. This made them portable and easier to configure in a warehouse.

 

Nowadays, you see some distilleries using pallets and stacking them on top of each other. This method does not allow nearly the amount of air circulation between the barrels as the tiered racks. They won’t heat up or cool down nearly as much without that air. You want that fluctuation so that the barrels can expand and allow the bourbon to penetrate the wood, then shrink to pull out the flavors back into the bourbon. It may be easy to say this from the sidelines, but if I were a distiller, I would want my bourbon aged in the tiered rack system that has proven to properly age distillate for nearly 140 years now.

 

Tony Freund

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