Steeling Bourbon: The New Trend in Rickhouses

Using steel buildings to age bourbon.

Drive through the hills of Kentucky and in between the horse farms you’ll see the rickhouses, massive wooden structures housing thousands of barrels of bourbon. No one makes bourbon like they do in Kentucky. The limestone springs provide the perfectly purified water that you cannot find anywhere else in the world. 

Look a little closer, and you’ll see something new. That rickhouse has a steel frame, steel siding, and a steel roof. So does that one. And that one! Steel instead of wood? For bourbon? That’s sacrilege, right? 

The folks who invest millions in bourbon would not make such drastic changes if they didn’t have a good reason – and yes, there are several good reasons for building rickhouses from steel. 

Fire Resistance

Nothing can destroy a bourbon maker’s future faster than a fire. A wooden rickhouse filled with barrels of high proof alcohol can go up in flames quickly. Steel offers more fire resistance than wood. They are less likely to ignite, and if a fire does break out, it’s easier to contain. 


Steel also resists two major threats to bourbon futures: pests and mold. The termites who have conquered many a wooden building pose no threat to a steel rickhouse, and steel’s resistance to mold enables bourbon makers to maintain a more sanitary environment. Steel buildings also have a longer lifespan than wood. You won’t see a steel rickhouse collapse like you will an old wood-framed structure. 

Consistency in Aging Conditions.

Maintaining the proper temperature and humidity for aging bourbon is easier in a steel structure than one made from wood. Steel structures can be designed with insulation and environmental control systems to maintain the ideal conditions for producing consistent high-quality bourbon.

While switching to steel means sacrificing the “historic charm” of the wooden rickhouse, but the benefits offered by steel cannot be beat. The durability of its steel, coupled with the opportunity for better controlled environments should see many distillers making the switch. Steel means no more building collapses, no more batches lost to fire or wood rot. It also ensures a better product for your customers. 

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