Entrepreneur puts finishing touches on what distillers started
Chris Harrigan is a free-spirited entrepreneur who aims to raise the bar on the quality of alcoholic drinks.
An MBA graduate of Clemson University, Harrigan has launched “Beyond Barrels™,” a business that enables the aging of spirits to continue at home what was started in the distilling process. And through four years of trial and error, he’s on to something.
A tinkerer by nature, Harrigan has experimented in other entrepreneurial areas, including development of hi-fi speakers. But aging liquor was spawned primarily because it didn’t require much capital.
That least-expensive route led to his development of a process where store-bought alcohol can continue to be aged after being purchased by a consumer. Beyond Barrels uses specially treated Bottle Aging Staves™, which mimic the reaction a traditional 53-gallon barrel would have on an alcohol product. The 5 ½’’ long by 5/8” wide French oak, American white oak and cherry staves purify and add flavor and smoothness when they are dropped into a bottle for anywhere from a week to three months.
“It all started when I bought a small barrel and tried to re-age bourbon, producing some really bad results. I then started learning everything I could about the aging process, wood, and the liquor itself,” said Harrigan.
Beyond Barrels is the result of four years of many unsuccessful experiments, but the product steadily improved with each experiment.
“The staves are made of naturally weathered wood normally used to age very high-end wines. The result is a product that essentially continues the distillery aging process, improving the flavor and quality of smoothness of just about any spirit.”
Harrigan said plenty of time and effort went into development of the heat-treated staves to ensure they deliver the best quality possible.
“Through years of trial and error, I developed a product that my friends liked, so I tried it out with some of the bartenders at top downtown restaurants and they liked it, too. I think the experimentation process kept a local liquor store in business, but the resulting product was worth it.” And some of those bartenders, and distillers in the region, seem to agree.
In two months, Beyond Barrels has sold its product to 43 restaurants, a marketing strategy that has generated revenue, but is also designed to create consumer awareness.
“My strategy is to get a base of high-end restaurants using the product, which can then be used as marketing on the retail display and ultimately drive consumer demand,” said Harrigan. “Once a good number of those restaurants that have bought the product have it on their menu, I will start a retail market push.”
Meantime, bar-restaurants in downtown Greenville, Columbia and Charleston are primarily using the staves to age cocktails, and some bourbon.
“What restaurants are doing today is pre-mixing drinks to create barrel-aging cocktails. They sometimes buy a small barrel to age the cocktail. Now, instead of buying a barrel, they’re buying my staves and are getting better results, more control and in the end, it’s costing them less.”
Megan Deschaine, bar manager at 492 bar and restaurant in Charleston, said she’s impressed with the efficiency and consistency that bottle aging delivers.
“Right now, we’re using Beyond Barrels’ cherry wood staves soaked in sherry to age a special cocktail for an upcoming event, but the staves can be used in so many different ways. They can be soaked, charred or smoked. The bottle-aging process is giving us a very consistent and quality product.”
With a May graduation looming, some competitive cycling and a job search in an area of strategic analysis are likely on Harrigan’s to-do list. But nurturing his fledgling business is also on that short list.
“My DNA is more like that of an engineer, versus my business and economics training,” said Harrigan. “My knack for figuring things out through tinkering, though, has resulted in an opportunity with a tremendous upside in Beyond Barrels. It’s definitely gone beyond the stage of being a hobby.”
# # #