Diver exploring underwater shipwreck
The Distillers That Are Using Wood From Shipwrecks To Make Whiskey
By Alli Neal
Oak barrels are becoming scarce, which is why whiskey distilleries are aging their liquids in stainless steel and dropping oak staves into the tanks to imbue those desired woodsy notes. Normally, these oak staves are produced specifically for this exact use, but Mammoth Distilling wants to gather its staves from somewhere very unusual: a shipwreck in Lake Michigan.
The shipwreck in question is the Westmoreland, a 200-foot steam-powered propeller ship that sank on December 7, 1854. Wreck diver and researcher Ross Richardson found the wreck in 2010, and is working with Mammoth Distilling’s CEO and co-founder Chad Munger and head distiller Ari Sussman to preserve the wreck and sample its wood.
Munger and Sussman are looking to salvage pieces of oak that have (preferably) already fallen off the wreck, toast them, and use them as staves for whiskey. However, the 1987 Abandoned Shipwrecks Act makes it clear that the Westmoreland wreck belongs to and is managed by the Michigan state government as a preserved site and marine life habitat.
Ross Richardson argues that the deterioration of the wreck is accelerating to the point where conservation standards can be re-evaluated. He started the non-profit Save the Westmoreland, and if it gets the special permits required, Mammoth hopes to put proceeds from whiskey flavored by the wreck of the Westmoreland toward its preservation efforts.