Local experts fuel barrel-aging scene

Photo and Q&A by Holly Gerard

Skyler Weekes opened Rocky Mountain Barrel Company about nearly eight years ago after obtaining a small set of wine barrels from Palisade. 

“I decided to sell those barrels on Craigslist,” he recounts, and immediately had several more people asking if he had more barrels to sell. Based on his experience as a certified sommelier and his background in the climbing industry, he developed a passion for wine and adventure. 

For Weekes, selling barrels has been just that. He started his operation out of his house and quickly moved to a storage warehouse facility until it was shut down on a technicality and he had to look for a new place to restart his barrel-selling business. 

At the time, many of the barrels were being turned into bars or home furniture or used as wedding props. Aging beers in used barrels was something Weekes hadn’t been exposed to until he met Chad Yakobson, the person behind the very popular Crooked Stave Brewing Company. After selling Chad several barrels and yet another move for the company, Rocky Mountain Barrel Company has grown into a 10,000-square-foot facility with 10 salaried employees.

Q: Has the popularity of barrel-aging created shortages?

A: Yes. About three years ago, there was a shortage. The popularity of using barrels for aging beer became really popular, more so than in years past. About the same time Scotland increased their Scotch making, so therefore less of those barrels were available. We don’t see too many shortages of wine barrels but there definitely is a shortage of rum barrels. The prices have definitely gone up as well.

Q: Are you open to the public or just private businesses?

A: We are open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. We have both barrels for use for beer and we also sell furniture fixtures from barrels that aren’t good enough for breweries or home brewers to use.

Q: Where are the barrels sourced?

A: We buy barrels from 23 different countries. We have tequila and rum barrels from Latin America, Scotch barrels from Scotland, and port barrels from Portugal, to name a few. Most notably, our wine, bourbon, and whiskey barrels mostly come from the United States. About 80 percent of them are locally sourced, including some from Breckenridge Distillery. 

Q: What types of wood are most of the barrels?

A: American oak and French oak. 

Q: Have you ever built any barrels yourself?

A: Yes, I was trained in Portugal as a Cooperage, which is the formal name of a cooper, or someone who makes barrels. We do not make any of the barrels we sell though, we only source them. 

Q: What’s on the horizon for your company?

A: We want to keep expanding into the micro-distillery sphere. Also, to keep focusing on and delivering a quality product. We are known for finding crazy barrels and rare barrels are definitely our niche. One example might be a mahogany barrel that had been aged with pomegranate juice.

Q: Any additional fun facts about barrels or your company?

A: My love for adrenaline from rock climbing has combined nicely with this business because they are both calculated risk taking. We usually pay up front for barrels we haven’t seen yet, and they could be swept off a barge in transport or damaged on arrival. We never know for sure. It’s always a risk with barrels.

Holly Gerard is a Front Range photographer and journalist about town.