Booming Buxton business busy with beer barrels

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Matt Albrecht, owner and founder of River Drive Cooperage-Millwork in Buxton, prepares a barrel he imported from Hungary for shipment to Michigan.

Matt Albrecht, owner and founder of River Drive Cooperage-Millwork in Buxton, prepares a barrel he imported from Hungary for shipment to Michigan.

Rehabbing barrels is a growing business for Matt Albrecht of River Drive Cooperage-Millwork in Buxton.

Moving a 1,000-liter beer barrel to be shipped to Michigan.

BUXTON — A business that markets rehabbed wooden barrels to the beer industry is booming.

Matt Albrecht moved River Drive Cooperage-Millwork from his home in Buxton to a new building at 600 Narragansett Trail in September and is already planning an expansion.

“We can’t keep up right now,” Albrecht said Monday about meeting the demand for barrels.

Albrecht said the company is processing 200 to 300 barrels weekly, which adds up to 10,000-15,000 barrels a year. “We are currently designing equipment that will allow us to double those numbers out of our Buxton facility,” he said.

“We’re working on plans for a 4,000-10,000 square-foot addition and/or new building,” Albrecht said.

In addition to the 10 people already employed, “We will have three to five new positions with the additions” at the 40-acre Buxton site, known as the old Hansen Farm.

The expanding craft brewery market in Maine and across the country is driving the business. “We’re one of the top beer states in the country,” Albrecht said.

The barrels previously stored products such as whiskey, bourbon, rum, beer or wine. Once rehabbed, the vessels provide craft brewers with opportunities to develop distinctive flavors for their beer.

“We’re innovating something that’s 2,000 years old,” said Albrecht. “Our goal is to push the limits on beer barrel aging.”

Albrecht, who is also a full-time firefighter-paramedic in South Portland, imports barrels from Europe and rehabs them. The barrels are repaired, cleaned, sanitized and pressure tested for leaks. “We have patents on our processing,” he said.

He has traveled to Hungary and Portugal to buy the barrels for import and the company also sells barrels worldwide, as far away as Iceland and South Korea. On Monday, the company was keeping business relatively locally. Workers were wrapping rehabbed barrels from Portugal for shipment to a customer in Oregon. For another customer, his shop prepared what he described as a 1,000-liter “Tokaj” barrel from Hungary to be shipped to Michigan.

Albrecht has a quality guarantee on his barrels. “We tell our customers the barrels are going to be good,” he said.

This month, Albrecht will travel to France with an eye on more international business for his company.

“We’ll start operations in Europe and United Kingdon this year,” he said. “We’re working on expanding that footprint.”

Fifty-three-gallon whiskey barrels are the most popular in the United States, according to Albrecht. If someone local wants a rain barrel or one for decor, River Drive has them priced between $50 and $100, depending on the condition.

In comparison, Albrecht sells barrels on the commercial market for between $300 to $2,500 each, depending on both the size and condition.

The recycling wooden barrels business spawned from scuba diving when he searched for sunken wood in lakes and rivers, and Albrecht began rehabbing wooden barrels in 2012. Wood from barrels not suitable for rehabbing is recycled into crafts in the River Drive shop.

Craft products include draft handles for beer outlets, coasters, chairs and flooring. Albrecht’s shop even manufactured a whiskey barrel snowboard for the Jack Daniels Tennessee sour mash whiskey distillery.

Sales manager Emily Cromwell said the company plans a retail space at its Buxton location and is looking for another retail site as well.

If all that wasn’t enough, Albrecht has been invited to teach industry leaders at a March conference in Arizona about barrels.

“An honor is an understatement,” Albrecht said.

Robert Lowell can be reached at 854-2577 or rlowell@keepmmecurrent.com.