Thursday, July 07, 2011

Bottling Bourbon

My Tuesday blog was about one day of my memorable Fourth of July weekend in Breckenridge. Here's a report about what I did on Sunday.

First, I'll give you some background. My husband and are fans of the fairly new Breckenridge Distillery, the world's highest distillery. We've attended their grand opening and tasted and bought their products, which currently consist of bourbon and vodka, though they are branching out. I've got August marked on my calendar, when they will debut their spiced rum. They're a small craft distillery, but they are growing much faster than they ever dreamed they would.

So, when the distillery received a huge order from a distributor for 20 pallets (108 cases of six bottles each) of bourbon, they put out a call for help to the members of their email newsletter list. They asked for volunteers to man a bottling line in six-hour shifts in exchange for a meal, all the beer and booze you wanted while working, and a bottle to take home. How could we refuse!?

My husband and I signed up for the late Sunday shift, from 3 - 9 PM. After some initial training, we worked on the bottling line with about ten other volunteers. We took turns doing different jobs to avoid getting bored, and we got to know each other while we worked. The owners came around at various times with offers of beverages; to bring new supplies of corks, tamper-proof seals, and boxing tape; to bundle and move the completed pallets; and to fix any technical problems. They also kept lively tunes going on the stereo (probably designed to keep us moving fast!)

The various steps on the production line included:

- unboxing empty bottles that were shipped from the bottle maker in France in pre-printed, unsealed cases,
- rinsing out the bottles with "product" (bourbon),
- filling the bottles (see first photo below),
- corking the bottles,
- tamping down the corks,
- applying the tamper-proof seal so the distillery logo was in the center of the cork and the two sides of the seal strip were exactly vertical with the neck of the bottle (This was the most labor-intensive part, taking four people, and I did it for the first couple of hours.),
- repacking the bottles into cases,
- taping the cases shut, and
- stacking the cases on the pallet (see second photo below).

After we filled three pallets, we broke for a barbecue dinner of burgers, hot dogs, baked beans, various salads, fruit, brownies, and of course, samples of the distillery's products of vodka and bourbon or beer or water. After a rest while the owners worked to unclog a line, we were back in business. Well-fed and watered and experienced now at the production line, the team worked like a well-oiled machine to quickly finish off two more pallets.

I was the "Chief (only) Bottle Washer" during this time, as you can see in the two photos below. You put four bottles upside down on the wash nozzles, then tap down on the front left one to start the wash cycle of bourbon squirting up from the nozzles into the bottles. You have to put the front ones on last and take them off first if you don't want to be accidentally squirted with bourbon. I'm happy to say that I never messed up the sequence, but one volunteer got two bourbon baths early in the process.

The five pallets we finished were the last five of the twenty that were needed to fill the distributor's order. We celebrated a job well-done with shots of bourbon and collected our bottles to take home.

I've never worked on an assembly-line before, and it's definitely hard work, and you're on your feet the whole time. I had to soak my sore muscles in the hot tub afterward. But, it's hard to imagine an assembly line being any more fun to work on than this one! We'll definitely keep our eyes open for future volunteer opportunities.

And for those who might want to know, yes, the Breckenridge Distillery products make for some mighty fine drinking!


Coco Ihle said...

Well Beth, such sacrifice! But, as they say, "Somebody's got to do it!" Seriously though, I'll bet it was a really fun experience!!! I wish I lived closer!

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks, Coco, for your comment. It really was fun, and a great opportunity to get to know some other local fans of the Breckenridge Distillery. I can't wait until August, when their rum is due out!

T. L. Cooper said...

What an incredibly interesting thing to do. And, it sounds like you had such fun!!
As a Kentuckian, I'm Kentucky bourbon all the way, but I'd be willing to try Breckenridge Distillery's. Do you know if I can find it in Oregon? If not, I guess that makes a good reason to stop in Breckenridge next time we drive to Kentucky even if it might be a bit out of our way. :-)