Like many Louisvillians, Jeff Ames is a self-proclaimed bourbon enthusiast. He's also now a successful entrepreneur, bringing the big barrel, slow-aged Bourbon Trail taste to suburban kitchens and basement bars in homes across America and Canada. In 2011, he founded Bluegrass Barrels, attractive one, two, and three-liter barrels made from American white oak, the same wood that ages the world's most popular spirits. Ames recently sold his 3000th barrel; now he's busy preparing for a booming holiday gift season. Bluegrass Barrels can be personalized with a laser engraving of a logo, monogram, or message, making it a terrific gift for the cocktail lover on your list.
So besides the nifty personalization options, what makes Bluegrass Barrels so unique? The concept is rather simple: using the same white oak that the world's top bourbon producers use to create their caramel-colored spirits, but shrinking the vessel down to a personal size (picture a cantaloupe or small watermelon-sized barrel), the Bluegrass Barrel is ready to grace a home bar or executive desk. Each barrel has been charred, which is what gives the liquor inside its color and flavor during the aging process. But on your own countertop, you don't have to wait months or years for your liquor to age. You can simply store your favorite spirit in the barrel and delight your guests with your personalized display piece, or you can get creative.
Mixology is trending now, causing patrons at fashionable bars to wait for hours for their master bartender to concoct a spectacular craft cocktail, often infused with fresh herbs or specialty spirits. Bluegrass Barrels capitalizes on the same idea—the slow-drink movement, if you will—but shifts the control of aging, flavoring, and the final taste from the master bartender to the at-home enthusiast. And at home, of course, tips are optional.
Spirits can be aged from one week to three years, depending on personal taste. The company advises reusing the barrels (whiskey and bourbon can be used five times, while tequila could be stored up to ten times without impacting the charred wood's effect), allowing you to create specialized drinks in small batches. Having a holiday party? Try pouring your favorite red wine into a Bluegrass Barrel, removing the bung (cork) and adding orange slices, cloves, honey, and cinnamon sticks, and serving mulled wine to your guests. Or give your out-of-town guests a taste of Kentucky with a personalized bourbon drink flavored with holiday hints of vanilla or cinnamon. (See recipes below.)
To celebrate the art of sipping, Bluegrass Barrels is hosting a Repeal Day Party at St. Charles Exchange  on December 5 from 5:00-7:00 pm, celebrating the day the 21st amendment ended Prohibition in 1933. Revelers can sip some craft cocktails aged in Bluegrass Barrels, nibble on appetizers, and raise their glasses while wearing Prohibition-era attire.
Bluegrass Barrels was recognized by Askmen.com  as an excellent groomsmen gift idea, and with affordable pricing ($49.99 to $74.99 depending on size) and engraving options, they are sure to be a hit this holiday season as well. The barrel head and back are completely customizable with names or logos and are shipped three days after ordering. One day shipping is standard in Louisville. Each customized barrel comes with a stand and a spigot, ready for display at your home bar. Order yours in time for the holidays at www.bluegrassbarrels.com  or contact Jeff Ames at 523-9100. But hurry, December 18 is the cutoff date for Christmas delivery. Bluegrass Barrels are also available at A Taste of Kentucky stores.
Ames encourages Bluegrass Barrel owners to share their recipes and cocktail creations. Below are two sample recipes, perfect for sharing over the holidays (if you get mixing now!):
Cinnamon Barrel-Aged Bourbon
- 1 liter of bourbon poured into a 1-liter barrel
- Drop in a 2-3 inch cinnamon stick
- Taste once every two weeks until the bourbon meets your desired flavor profile.
Vanilla Barrel-Aged Bourbon
- 1.75 liters of bourbon poured into a 2-liter barrel
- Drop in 3 cut vanilla beans
- Taste once every two weeks until the bourbon tastes like you want it to taste!
The Bluegrass Barrels blog  contains more recipes, including a cinnamon, vanilla, apple-infused campfire cider, and Ames will post more as he receives them.
Photos: courtesy of Bluegrass Barrels