Stock Show vendors having a barrel of fun

01/29/2013 11:18 PM

01/30/2013 7:50 AM

FORT WORTH -- The words homemade whiskey don't have to conjure images of bootleggers and bathtubs anymore.

Instead, think cute 1-liter wood barrels that say "His" and "Hers."

With a booth in the Amon G. Carter Jr. Exhibits Hall, the owners of Deep South Barrels are among more than 200 vendors at the Stock Show. Their handcrafted American white oak barrels can be used to age spirits and wine or to "bootleg" a batch of vodka, neutral rum or other grain alcohol. Some people simply collect them.

"It's against the law to distill alcohol in Texas, so we offer a way to legally bootleg your own alcohol," said Randall Bentley, a co-owner of the Pearland-based company.

The barrels tap into several movements that are inspiring people to craft their own spirits -- the rise in Texas companies moving into the whiskey distillery market, the popularity of do-it-yourself projects and the reality show Moonshiners.

Bentley said people from all walks of life buy the barrels.

"Every day somebody turns 21," Bentley said.

The barrels range from $50 without engraving to $190 for custom jobs. The barrels range from 1 liter to 5 gallons, Bentley said.

People can experiment by aging spirits or whiskey. They can also make a "bootleg" batch by combining natural grain alcohol with essences and waiting 14 to 16 days for it to turn into a spirit, Bentley said.

Buck Taylor, a fellow vendor and artist -- and the man who played Newly O'Brien on TV's Gunsmoke -- said he owns several barrels.

"I'm not a big whiskey drinker, but I've used it and people love it," Taylor said.

Taylor said some people like to have their ranch or Western brands engraved on the barrels.

"They are highly collectible and people get a kick out of them," Taylor said.

This is the first time Deep South Barrels has had a booth at the Stock Show. The vendor has been to state fairs, rodeos and other events across the country.

Bentley said the company started as a hobby and grew as more people sought barrels. Bentley and co-owners Jonathan and Elissa Emmons started the company in late 2009.

"It progressively grew into something we thought we could make money at," he said.

The hobby proved crucial after Bentley was laid off from his job as a heavy-equipment operator. The bootleg kits took off as the economy languished -- perhaps a reflection of the times.

"When things are good, people drink. When things are bad, people drink more," he said.

Diane Smith, 817-390-7675

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