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How Newfoundlanders recycled rum barrels in 1981

The Newfoundland Liquor Corporation was done with the empty wooden barrels, but some Newfoundlanders had ways of repurposing them.

Heavy wooden barrels were repurposed for furniture — but also a potent potable

Not rum, but rum-adjacent

41 years ago
1:53
Thrifty Newfoundlanders find a new use for heavy rum barrels in 1981. 1:53

The Newfoundland Liquor Corporation was done with the empty wooden barrels, but some Newfoundlanders had ways of repurposing them. The barrels even had a name.

"A swish barrel is a retired rum barrel," said the CBC's Michael Vaughan in the winter of 1981. "It's a barrel that's had rum inside it, aging for five to seven years."

Two men were seen rolling a barrel on its side, away from a building labelling it as the Newfoundland Liquor Corporation.

It was "cheaper" for the corporation to buy a new barrel rather than ship the old one "back to Jamaica," said Vaughan. That's why it sold the extras.

'Potential rum machine'

Eight litres of water was poured through a hole in the barrel. It was then plugged again and given a swish daily. After about a week and a half, the water had undergone a transformation. (The National/CBC Archives)

"The reason Newfoundlanders buy them is that each barrel is a potential rum machine," said Vaughan.

As the "heavy" barrel made of "thick oak" was seen being eased down a set of stairs to a home basement in St. John's, Vaughan explained the process.

Over the years, the wood had soaked up some of the rum. And there was a way to "release" it: just add about eight litres of water, "swish it around every day," and the results were ready in about 10 days.

"After about a week and a half, you have rum," said Vaughan. "Strong, dark, cheap rum."

Making rum was an off-label use for the barrels, the reporter noted. Instead, the liquor corporation sold them "so people can make barrel furniture: chairs, tables, flour tubs."

"But as one official pointed out, you'd be foolish not to wash the barrel out first."

"It certainly works," swish rum maker Keith Whalen told CBC reporter Michael Vaughan. "I've seen people falling out of my house." (The National/CBC Archives)

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