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A barrel from Royal Oak-based whiskey and bourbon distiller Motor City Gas. Photo courtesy of Motor City Gas.

Barrel Sharing in Metro Detroit Brings Unique Flavors


There’s a practice going on behind closed curtains among distillers and brewers in Metro Detroit. In fact, you probably won’t know about it unless you ask your local brewer or distiller how they made your favorite mead, whiskey, beer, etc.

That beer you’re sipping on? There’s a chance it was aged in a whiskey barrel. Same goes for your favorite local mead. Yep, that mead may have been aged in a gin barrel.

Crazy, I know.

To distill this craziness down to its essence, we spoke with a few local brewers and distillers to find out who is sharing barrels with whom. As it turns out, there’s a lot of sharing going on. How generous can this town be?

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Owner and head distiller of Motor City Gas Rich Lockwood says that the Royal Oak distillery has been sharing barrels with other local businesses since opening four years ago.

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A bottle of single malt whiskey from Motor City Gas. Photo courtesy of Motor City Gas.

“The way that normally works is we give them some of our freshly dumped whiskey barrels that they use to age their beer, wine, cider, mead, etc.,” Lockwood said of the process. “When they’re done, they give those barrels back and we age our whiskey in them. Doing so imparts flavor and aroma nuances from whatever was previously aged in that barrel.”

Some examples of Motor City Gas whiskey/bourbon aged in beer/mead barrels:

  • “Ale No” – Bourbon aged in a River Rouge Brewing (Royal Oak) “Ale Yes” IPA beer barrel
  • “Dirty Paws” – Single malt aged in a ROAK Brewing (Royal Oak) “Devil Dog” oatmeal stout barrel
  • “Cellar Sauce” – Chocolate roasted barley whiskey aged in a Cellarmen’s (Hazel Park) raspberry mead barrel
  • “Burn Out” – Bourbon aged in a Cellarmen’s (Hazel Park) cherry mead barrel
  • “Hopped Mess” – For this double hopped whiskey, Motor City Gas distills IPA beer from Axle Brewing (Ferndale) into whiskey and then age it in IPA beer barrels from River Rouge Brewing (Royal Oak)

Lockwood says Motor City Gas is currently aging a few whiskeys in wine barrels from Leelanau, Michigan, as well as a rye whiskey being aged in a tequila barrel from Iron Horse in Royal Oak.

Additionally, Motor City Gas works with home brewers by selling their empty 8 and 10 gallon whiskey barrels to them for use at home.

“Every once in a while if we taste something that we really like [from a home brewer], we will age one of our whiskies in their home-brew barrel to help promote their craft,” Lockwood said. “We started off as home brewers so we are big supporters of the local home-brew community and try to help them out in any way we can.”

One name you may have noticed in that list is Cellarmen’s from Hazel Park. Known for their craft meads and ciders, Cellarmen’s shares barrels with Motor City Gas and other distilleries to create beverages, such as “Motor City Sin” — a vanilla and cinnamon cider aged in Motor City Gas’ chocolate whiskey barrels.

At the end of the day, brewing and distilling is like cooking: you have to combine different flavors to create something wholly new. That’s what places like Motor City Gas, Cellarmen’s and others are doing in Metro Detroit. We couldn’t be happier for it!

Remember to drink responsibly and plan ahead with a designated driver or take advantage of one of these local designated driving services.

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