By Verna Gates | Photography courtesy of Bourbon Pens
Ever wonder what happens to old bourbon barrels? You just might be writing with a piece of one.
Even at work, Joel Lockridge makes it possible to enjoy your favorite libation, but you can only be intoxicated with its beauty. While the true Southern gentleman takes pride in his signature bourbon, now that bourbon can translate into a real signature. Lockridge recycles bourbon barrels into custom writing implements from pens to fountain pens to pencils.
Among the elixirs providing barrels, customers can recognize the names of a few old friends, such as Evan Williams, Jim Beam, Elijah Craig and even Jack Daniels. Bourbon Pens are made from 13 elixirs ranging from Buffalo Trace to Woodford Reserve to Bulleit. The most expensive, and popular, brand is Maker’s Mark. Even the CEO of Maker’s Mark has ordered pens from Lockridge.
As in so many inventions, Bourbon Pens begins with an accident. Lockridge began woodworking as a child making bird houses with his father. One day, soon after he had remarried, he retreated to his shop for a big project, as he said, “cutting what I shouldn’t have been cutting.” On the last cut of the last board, he was attempting what was called a rip cut, a prophetic name. The kick back threw his hand into the saw, sending him to the hospital to reattach a finger. While he waited out the recovery, he went to a demo on turning pens.
While pens were still a new hobby, a friend from Kentucky delivered a challenge by sending a stave from a bourbon barrel. Working with the white oak wood permeated the air with an intoxicating scent.
“The whole workshop smelled of bourbon. I love my job!” said Lockridge.
Called the “angel’s share” for the evaporated airborne bourbon, and the “devil’s cut” for the actual “white dog” liquor poured in to age, Lockridge benefits from both in his pens. The charred white oak soaks in the bourbon, sharing its burnt flavor. In return, the bourbon tints the wood a rich, earthy color. The scent accompanies the pen in a barrel sliver included in the pen package. Bourbon makers follow a strict code which dictates that all bourbon is aged in white oak barrels that can only be used once. A single barrel can be turned into about 200 pens.
“The hardest part is driving to Kentucky to pick up barrels,” quipped Lockridge.
A former graphic artist for printing companies, Lockridge now channels his creativity full time into making pens. There are 38 styles featured on his website, with the tantalizing offer to make one-of-a kind to fit tastes, occasions, hobbies (like golf), corporate and gift ideas. For sports fans, team colors can be your signature.
Standard styles run the gamut from the classic Gentleman pen to the quirky Gear Shift that moves like a five-speed and features tire tracks on the top, band and tip. There is history in the Art Deco, Federal, Noveau Sceptre and Celtic styles. Manly styles dominate the Bullet, Skull, Cigar and Bolt Action pens. And national pride is featured in the Commander and American Patriot. Each can be customized with engraving.
“I like making functional art. It is satisfying,” said Lockridge.
Lockridge is not limited to bourbon barrels. His pens can be made from alligator jaw bone, antler, snake skin, exotic woods and acrylic. One of his favorite woods to work with is 6,000-year-old bog wood from England. These can be found at BogOakPens.com.
“It is humbling to work with it, considering wooly mammoths were roaming around it and the pyramids had not been built. When these were growing, there was no written word, metal had not been cast and they were a thousand years from stacking up Stonehenge,” said Lockhart.
Within those pens can be found ingredients as varied as Swarovski Crystals, 22 carat gold, antique copper, pewter and brass, and flat-head screws. Even kaleidoscopes can be inserted into the top. Standard refills fit all of the pens.
Lockridge enjoys materials with a story behind it and specialty pens can include tiny pieces of the Titanic, Harry Potter’s great hall, Yankee Stadium, and the Shawshank Tree. If you have been somewhere special, he can probably find a piece of it for a custom pen.
A self-proclaimed man who is hard to buy for, Lockridge comes to the aid of shoppers everywhere. Orders have been sent to 58 countries, some of which are places “I had to find on a map.” Bourbon Pens have been shipped to places as far flung as European countries, Borneo and Macau. He jokes that his world headquarters is located in a building behind his house.
Most of his income is generated at the dozens of art shows he attends across the East Coast and Southeast. Dates and locations can be found on his website. His pens start at $35 and rise to as much as $250, depending on if it’s a chrome tip or jewelry grade. While he keeps stock on hand, he can generally produce custom pens and ship within a few days.
Every single pen is personally hand-crafted in his small shop south of Birmingham, Alabama, so you can sign your name with style.
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