Some of the Witherspoon Distillery barrels used to age beer brewed at Braindead Brewing in Dallas on Wednesday, September 13, 2017. 

Some of the Witherspoon Distillery barrels used to age beer brewed at Braindead Brewing in Dallas on Wednesday, September 13, 2017. 

Vernon Bryant/Staff Photographer

The barrels are dispersed throughout BrainDead Brewing -- in the front entryway, east cellar, even some in the brewhouse.

There are 28 in total, each stamped by the same distillery. Over time, they infuse bourbon character into BrainDead's latest and most popular creations, like its imperial wheat porter or fruited Belgian strong ale.

Andrew Huerter, the brewmaster at BrainDead, loves bourbon barrel-aged beers. But in the past, acquiring those barrels had been an arduous process. It required a barrel broker, and when the barrels finally arrived weeks -- or sometimes months -- later from Kentucky or Colorado, some were bone dry or too costly to ship.

That's no longer the case. For the past two years, whenever Huerter needs barrels, he just drives 30 miles to Lewisville. That's where Witherspoon Distillery is, and the folks there are more than happy to share. They sell used bourbon barrels to more than 30 Texas breweries, mainly in Dallas-Fort Worth.

"It's very rewarding that our barrels can go on and live a second life for a completely different product," says Ryan DeHart, owner of Witherspoon.

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A partnership with breweries is a no-brainer, he says, because the bourbon-making process requires using each barrel only one time. There isn't enough physical space at Witherspoon to store all the used barrels, and by sharing, DeHart is able to recoup some of his costs. He also receives free advertising at places like BrainDead, where patrons see Witherspoon stamped all over.

For brewers like Huerter, it's also a slam dunk of a deal.

"The price of the barrels is so much better, and you don't have another middleman," Huerter says. "We know exactly when the barrels were dumped. We save on freight. We save on time, because we just take all of our pickup trucks and drive up to Lewisville. And on top of it, we get to share some beer with them."

Barrel aging can be done with many types of alcohol. Breweries use vessels that once housed everything from tequila to wine to Scotch whisky. Regardless of what a brewer uses, the freshness of the barrel is imperative in the aging process.

And in D-FW, it's hard to find a fresher bourbon barrel than Witherspoon's.

Tyler Doyle (top) and Chris Leurig stack full barrels of whiskey at the Witherspoon Distillery in Lewisville. The distillery also makes rum.

Tyler Doyle (top) and Chris Leurig stack full barrels of whiskey at the Witherspoon Distillery in Lewisville. The distillery also makes rum.

Nathan Hunsinger/Staff Photographer

Just ask Wim Bens. The president of Lakewood Brewing Co. received his first batch of Witherspoon barrels in the spring of 2016 -- dumped that day -- to make a bourbon barrel-aged barleywine. After a few months of aging, he tried his creation.

"And I was like, 'Whoa, this tastes like a really good bourbon. But it doesn't taste like beer.'"

The barrels were so fresh, and the bourbon character so strong, that Bens had to brew another batch of barleywine to blend the flavors.

DeHart loves that story, and that he's regularly in touch with brewers all over the area. He said it feels like Witherspoon is part of the North Texas craft family, which has proved useful in multiple ways. Recently, the distillery was short 300 pounds of grain, so its friends at Rahr and Sons Brewing Co., who it shares barrels with, helped out.

The partnerships are a perfect and convenient relationship for everyone involved. For Huerter, acquiring barrels is no longer a tedious process. He knows when they were dumped, who made the spirit and when they're ready.

"And," he says, "I can even pick up a bottle of bourbon while I'm there."

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