Transferring barrels with bullet-proof safety

Millions of people enjoy Irish whiskey, neat or in Irish coffee, for example. Those exquisite flavors are the result of distillers’ sensitive palates, and traditional craft skills perfected over centuries. But there is another side to the distillery, one that involves some heavy lifting. And that demands a totally up-to-date solution to ensure safe, efficient production.

Irish whiskey spends most of its time aging in oak barrels, where it develops its characteristic flavor. Many of the barrels are sourced from bourbon makers in Kentucky, USA. Different barrels offer particular desirable characteristics that come from the oak itself, the extent of toasting, and the bourbon they once held. Once emptied of their finished Irish whiskey, those barrels have yet further lives. Most are used in the production of other spirits, such as rum. Some are used to make vinegar, while others are converted into home and garden furniture.

Moving barrels is heavy work

Transferring the barrels from the distillery into containers for onward transportation is heavy work. The barrels are large and awkward to handle. A rolling barrel is a hazard to everyone nearby, and there is a high risk of injury due to crushing, trapping, or falling. “We have been looking at this very dangerous part of the operation in detail,” says Eric Higgins, sales manager at Prolift, the VPG lift table distributor in Ireland. “Safety comes first, always, but distilleries are also seeking higher efficiency and increased output – just like any modern enterprise. That is what led to our smart solution, which improves both safety and efficiency.”

Bullet-proof safety

Barrels are transported stacked in two layers in the container, so the lift solution must be able to deliver to two different heights. “But we did much more for the customer, New Midleton Distillery in Co Cork,” continues Eric. “The safety is bullet-proof. When one gate is open, the other is automatically locked, for example. There is no chance of runaway barrels, or of workers falling through gates that have been left open. Furthermore, the lift will operate only if all gates are closed.”

Improved efficiency

Prolift’s solution also incorporates efficiency improvements such as electrically powered horizontal loading flaps. These make moving barrels into the container quicker and easier. The first working platform is already installed in the distillery, and the future looks very promising. Overall, loading efficiency has improved by up to 25%.

“We have had impressive support from John Bjelke and his team at VPG,” comments Eric. “Their innovative, high-quality engineering combined with their knowledge of rules and regulations have ensured we can create solutions that go far beyond current legal requirements.”

Results achieved

  • Bullet-proof safety for employees
  • Loading is 25% more efficient
  • Fewer barrels damaged during loading
  • More precise stacking in containers reduces damage and increases safety during transportation

More information/Contacts

  • The word “whiskey” is an anglicization of the first word in the Gaelic phrase, uisce beatha, meaning “water of life”. The Gaelic was itself a translation of the Latin aqua vitae, which was commonly used to describe distilled spirits during the Middle Ages.
  • New Midleton Distillery is the largest in Ireland. It produces many well-known brands including Jameson, the world’s best-selling Irish whiskey.
  • Read more about the life of a whiskey barrel.
  • Prolift Handling Ltd is one of Europe’s leading distributors of lifting equipment, material handling equipment and height safety equipment.
  • Prolift, Eric Higgins:
  • John Bjelke ( is Sales Manager at VPG.
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