Anyone that knows me knows I am sucker for charity. I have gone miles out of my way to raise money for good causes and I think that thought is at the heart of what Draper’s BBQ is all about. It’s not quite Spiderman’s “With great power, comes great responsibility,” but I do believe that God gives us each talent and ability and that those who are able should use those talents and abilities and our able bodies to help others whenever we can. Some call it putting good karma out there. Some call it being a Christian. Some call it the Golden Rule. Whatever you call it, we at Draper’s BBQ take it seriously.
A few months ago while visiting our friends Brad and Cindy Simmon’s out in Danville, Ky we were asked to sponsor a bourbon barrel for the Bourbon Barrel Art Project benefiting Heart of Kentucky United Way. The idea of the project is to have an artist basically make art out of barrel and the barrels are auctioned off and all the proceeds are given to the the charity. You can read more about the process and see some of the submissions here.
I of course said yes and we loaded up the barrel and the brainstorming process began of what we are now going to do with this large barrel now that I had stuck my foot in my mouth and agreed to sponsor one.
If you have never seen or handled a bourbon barrel first hand I will tell you they are things of beauty just in their raw state. They are made of very thick and beautiful oak and you start to admire the craftsmanship it takes to make one immediately. The smell of the left over bourbon mixed with the oak is awesome! The more I handled the barrel the more I realized I couldn’t just paint over this barrel. Some how it’s natural form needed to celebrated.
After much deliberation with Mike Owings and of course consulting with our wives (the real brains of the operation) we decided we needed to wood burn this barrel some how. Our vision was to make the barrel functional somehow while also making it art, but also maintaining the integrity of the barrel itself. We wanted to convey that these barrels are still made exactly how they have been for hundreds of years. They are handcrafted, they have the unmistakable marks of craftsmanship all over them. They have the sweat and time of the person who built them ingrained in their wood. We knew that painting over this was just somehow wrong. So we agreed that we needed to make something out of the barrel that celebrated all these things vice covering them up.
I started looking for an artist willing to take the ideas in our head and put them on the barrel but we kept striking out, either because the artist was too busy or they just didn’t share the same vision we had.
After some more deliberation and some goading by Mike I decided the best thing we could do for our barrel was for US to do the art work and the building of it. I knew this would be a gamble, but at least at the end of the day for better or worse we could say this barrel represented who we are and what we believe in.
The first thing we agreed to do was make a liquor cabinet out of the barrel to address the idea that it needed to be functional. So we decided to put a lazy susan inside the barrel. The next couple of pics show the cutting of the barrel to make that happen.
This sounds like a pretty easy thing to do, but its a bit more treacherous than you think. The bands on the barrel are under quite a bit of pressure. Mix that with the idea that when you start cutting the slats out that the remaining slats can shift and you have to take some precautions. My dad Mike Draper was the lead on this portion. He drilled through each band and put a screw through each slat. Once that was done he used a angle grinder to cut the band. This was genuinely a one shot kind of deal. If we messed it up, I would have been on my way back to Lexington to pick up a replacement.
You can see all the natural char left in the barrel. Let me tell you there are few things more awesome than smelling a bourbon barrel that has just been cut open. That mix of charred oak and bourbon are amazing! Needless to say we saved the oak slats that we cut out to toss in on the very next bbq.
Once dad was done it was my turn to fire up the wood burner and see how bad I could mess up this barrel. I started with the top band of flames that we ran around the entire barrel. I freehand drew each one and then came back and burned them in. I can tell you I was a nervous wreck the first ones I did. So much so it didn’t even occur to me to practice a few first. I literally dove right in and Mike Owings came up and asked where my practice wood was and I told him “ummm….wow….that flame right there.” That was not the smartest moment in my years on this planet, but it all turned out for the best. I had done some wood burning as a kid (around 25 years ago) and I figured I knew what I was doing for the most part. Thankfully there were more good flames than bad as I started to learn the ropes again.
After the flames I began sketching the three animals we decided to include. On each of the animals we wanted to do sort of an 1800’s style butcher representation that included the primal cut lines for each animal. I really wanted to label each cut but there just was not room with the wood burner.
As you can see the oak barrel really responded well to the wood burning. It was hard to do because the material was so thick so pulling thick, straight lines was very difficult. Shading was also a bit trying, but all in all the animals turned out pretty well.
After the animals were done it was time to add the next piece, which was the lower band of flames.
Once these were done it was time to add the next piece, the state logo for Kentucky. I was really worried about this turning out well for a few reasons. First because the outline of Kentucky is very jagged and it is hard to get a wood burning to smoothly transition these edges. Secondly for exactly the opposite reason, I knew if every line in the word “Kentucky” wasn’t nearly perfect the whole thing would terrible since it was such a center piece.
The final art piece of the barrel project was to add “Draper’s BBQ” to the section right below the Kentucky logo. Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures of this process. It was VERY difficult to get something that long and symmetric placed evenly on the barrel and then wood burned. It was easily the most difficult piece and I am glad I saved it until the end.
Once that was completed it was time to seal it up and have a table built out of white oak. While I won’t show you the final completed barrel until after the auction has completed, I will show you just enough to get an idea what you need to come out and bid on.
What you aren’t seeing just yet is the completed butcher block table that is being installed and the lights that we put in top of the barrel that will sure to make any bottle of bourbon or wine look right at home. Unfortunately these last pics really don’t do the barrel justice. It turned beautiful and I am proud to be apart of creating it.
In the end this barrel isn’t perfect and I’m surely no artist, but it is what it was intended to be. It adheres to the idea that simple things made well shouldn’t be covered up by paint. They should be show cased, celebrated and honored. We applied the same principals to this barrel that apply to every ounce of meat we cook. We kept it simple, we kept it honest and we never tried to make it anything it wasn’t intended to be.
Whoever ends up winning this barrel is more than welcome to hang out with the DBQ Crew any time.
Love, Peace and Pork Grease folks….see you Danville in a few days!