Slowing down for Tom Griffin, known in the industry as The Barrel Guy, means spending only 100 days on the road instead of being absent from his Madison, WI, home for a full half the year. It means covering only 50,000 miles, down from 80,000. (All of his trucks run on biodiesel.) But in this era where barrel-aging programs are de rigueur, Griffin’s services are utilized, by his account, at some 1,200 breweries.
Y’know Firestone-Walker’s Sucaba bourbon-aged barley wine? Jolly Pumpkin’s wine-aged wild ales? Well, from tiny Perennial in St. Louis, maker of Abraxas, to Bourbon County Stout from Chicago’s Goose Island with the largest barrel program in the country, the bourbon-aged imperial stouts that Griffin directly makes possible are legendary.
It all started in 1999 with a prophetic brewer named Todd Ashman, who is returning to his roots at Flossmoor Station, whose whiskey-barrel-aged stout inspired Griffin to begin hauling from Kentucky’s rickhouses to brewhouses across North America. The longer bourbon matures enstaved, the deeper its character and flavors of vanilla, molasses, oak. Once those barrels—Griffin gets his hands on all manner of wine and spirit casks—are emptied, he races to distribute them wet, fresh. Because when he’s delivering, say, Pappy Van Winkle 23-Year bourbon barrels to his old friend Ashman, speed cannot be stressed enough so that Eclipse Stout may then rest insouciantly inside those boozy barrels.
While he now makes a good living at this cottage industry he created, there’s more than an angel’s share of altruism. “My love is spread across this continent,” says Griffin, “in every nook and cranny, those little places puttin’ out some fabulous, fabulous stuff.”
This profile appears in the November 2014 issue of All About Beer Magazine. Click here for a free trial of our next issue.