BAMBERG – About three years ago, Greg Pierce realized the booming distilling industry would need more barrels, so he moved to Bamberg and opened the first cooperage in the Palmetto State.
Now, Black Water Barrels is manufacturing white oak barrels for distillers and winemakers all over the world.
Pierce is the president of Black Water Barrels, named for the tea-colored water of the nearby Edisto River. He says he is in the perfect location.
“Bamberg is close to the interstate for shipping, and it gives us easy access to Charleston or Savannah,” he said. “We ship barrels all over the U.S. and to Germany, Malaysia, China, India – all over the world. We do a lot of international business.”
Black Water is one of few independent cooperages in the country.
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“There are 20 to 25 cooperages in the country,” Pierce explained, “and about six companies own most of them. There are two companies that do about 95% of the barrel business in the U.S.”
Black Water Barrels might be small compared to some cooperages, but Pierce works hard to set himself apart.
“We do a lot of research and development,” he said. “We let distillers come in and use our equipment and try new things, which no one else does. We are staying on the cutting edge of what’s going on in the industry.”
One result of the research and development is the use of cubes. The 1-by-1-inch charred cubes are added to barrels to make bourbon or wine age faster.
“The cubes, oak chips and stave chips save our customers a lot of money,” Pierce said. “It costs a lot to lay a barrel down for four years while the bourbon ages. You have to pay taxes on it every month, and this helps the product age twice as fast.”
The distilling and winemaking industries that use Black Water Barrels are growing rapidly, and Pierce is ready to meet that challenge. A new contract for Black Water is leading to growth for the small cooperage, which plans to produce 50,000 barrels annually.