Choosing the right storage option depends on your space and needs.
Barrel racking system at Sierra Nevada.
What am I going to do with all this beer? We all know the answer to that question, but before your brew is worth bottling, you may find yourself wondering what you’re going to do with all your barrels.
There are plenty of barrel racking systems that vary depending on your space and needs. I spoke with several craft beer industry leaders to hear how they solved their storage issues. Marty Scott of Revolution Brewing Co. in Chicago, Illinois uses a two barrel rack to keep his barrels safe. He explained to me how Revolution “stopped using cave racks because they were too hard to move and the multi-purpose racks function just as well as bottom racks but have the versatility to be bottom, middle, or top racks.” Scott stacks his barrels five and sometimes six high. He has no shortage of ceiling space, so the cave rack, which unlike other racks, cannot be stacked, was an unnecessary cost-saving rack that would’ve cost him more in labor if he hadn’t chosen to remove them. But that doesn’t mean the cave rack is never the right choice.
The cave rack has turned a drab hallway at Firestone Walker Brewing Co. in Southern California into a beautiful stroll. Jim Crooks, the master blender, told me that they initially started using cave racks for their puncheon barrels because they “wanted to fit in as many puncheons as [they] could.” But Crooks soon realized that the space was underutilized. Puncheon barrels hold 500 liters, far more than your typical 60 gallon wine barrel. Stacking them with conventional portable double bar steel racks wouldn’t be efficient, or aesthetically pleasing to visiting guests. Crooks wanted to stack more puncheons in his hallway in a safe way without losing accessibility to the barrels. “I told Bobby Fox (sales representative for Western Square Industries Inc.) what we wanted to do and he took it to Western Square. They engineered this cradle… that basically involves steel tubing with a wire that fits in the barrel in the middle.” The result is a gorgeous stack of puncheon barrels along the way. Crooks uses a forklift to move the barrels. And for safety, Western Square added a locking bar “to hold the cave racks together. That way they won’t slide apart causing the barrels to tumble down.”
The cave rack is not the only type of rack they use at Firestone because a smart cellar master will identify the right kind of storage for each separate storage room based on the available space and situation. That’s why Pat Korn of Green Flash, based in San Diego, California is frequently experimenting with different products. Korn’s main barrel room consists mostly of two barrel racks. Despite the fact that Green Flash has “never had a problem with any racks,” as Korn tells it, Korn is currently experimenting with four barrel racks. “We wanted the stability,” he told me over the phone. “We wanted to see if they were sturdier.” And while Green Flash has been experimenting, Almanac Beer Co has been implementing.
Cindy Le, operations manager at Almanac Beer Co based in San Francisco, California, said to me that they’ve been “trying to phase out the two barrel rack and put all barrels on quad barrel racks.” The four barrel rack has a square base, compared to the two barrel rack, which is a rectangular base, giving the four barrel rack a more stable center of gravity. “And we were trying to save space,” Le added. By changing the way they lined up their barrel stacks with the four barrel rack, Le was able create easier access to the barrels. “We pull barrels down constantly so we can taste them,” Le said to me. “Pretty much four to five times a month we pull barrels off racks. Moving the barrels is the hard part and having them on quad racks makes it more time efficient.”
At Lagunitas Brewing Co, based out of Petaluma, California, they have to consider the possibility of major earthquakes. To keep their barrels more secure, they switched to Western Square’s specialized Barrel Master. Typically equipped with wheels, Lagunitas’ Barrel Master uses a standard triangle cradle to keep the barrel in place. But unlike other portable steel barrel racks, such as the two barrel or four barrel rack, the Barrel Master is a rack-on-rack stacking system, which makes it more stable than other systems. That means that, in the unlikely event of an accident, if one barrel falls off the stack, the rest of the barrels will not fall down with it.
Talk to an Expert
There are plenty of options to choose from. Before you fill your barrel room, talk to an expert. Western Square offers free consultation on barrel room layout and design and has been doing so for decades. Every barrel room is unique and it’s important to put in the effort to figure out what type of rack makes the most sense for your space and the type of use your barrels will see. Once you have a plan in place, you can get back to the hard stuff, getting rid of all that delicious beer.
If you liked reading this article, you may also like: Craft Brewing: The Love of the Hunt for New and Used Barrels.