The original design brief made a link to the fired interiors of Victoria Distillers Oaken Gin's aging barrels, purchased from Lynchburg, Tennessee's Jack Daniel's Distillery. Their 'regular' gin is aged in these bourbon barrels, which by law in the U.S., can only be used once. The result is a spectacular combination of aroma, taste and a hue that is reminiscent of single malt but subtly different. When I had a really good look at the drawings for the tasting room at Victoria Distillers, and started doing material take offs, I had one of those 'holy crap' moments. There was a lot of that black stuff. It was on the ceiling 'clouds'. It wrapped the cabinets at the end of the tasting table. It wrapped the top of the fireplace. It was behind the bar. It was behind the shelves in three different merchandise units. They even wanted tables made out of it.
It, the black stuff, is Shou-sugi-ban treated wood. I had seen it before, especially in Dwell Magazine, used as exterior siding. I also saw that look on the bottom side of cedar planks I use for barbecuing salmon. The ancient Japanese technique for preserving exterior siding is being used for more than just siding these days, and I had to figure that out. If I haven't done something before, or don't know anyone that has given it a try, I consult You-Tube. After three videos, I usually come up with my own technique based on what makes the most sense, and give it a go. Shou-sugi-ban, which translates to 'charred cedar' continues to be used to fire-harden wood, make it more insect resistant, and decrease the rate at which it rots. For the tasting room, it was all about achieving that look but with an interior application.
First up was the need to clad a number of different walls and features. I had salvaged all the tongue and groove cedar from the soffits that we demoed on the site. It was straight, clear and only stained on one side. I experimented with a few different procedures out on the patio where I could feel comfortable that I wasn't going to smoke anyone out or burn down the building. Keeping the torch away from the stills, 45 gallon drums of ethanol and finished product was also part of the safety plan. Because it was such thin material, I ended up having to rip the tongue and groove off the soffit material because they would stay on fire too long. With this technique, its more about the singe than the full-on burn. Once I figured it out, it became a race to keep up on production while Rick Silva (above) did the install. Burn, spray down. Sun dry. Brush. Burn. Sun dry. Brush. Finish (unless it needed a third burn to get that alligator hide look). When I went to buy coffee on a particularly busy burning day, the person behind me asked if there was a fire in the kitchen. Guess that wood smoke hangs on in the Levis.
Second up was the tables for the lounge. Work space remained on the patio, and let's face it, the view is spectacular with sail boats, sea lion and otters floating by. For the the table-tops, I had intended to use some chunky, old-growth Douglas-fir that I had salvaged from Victoria's Chinatown. It ended up being too chunky for the slim pedestal chosen by our designer, Samantha Weeks. At about the same time I was looking for options, the bottling line for the distillery side arrived from California, packed in large, wooden shipping crates. The base was made by lumber-yard fresh, 2x10s. Perfect. Ripped, biscuit-jointed and glued up, they had the right weight for the pedestals, and took the torch well. Nice thing about using a roofing torch is that people only bug you with really important site and project questions!
Now that the Distillery and the tasting lounge is open (full license in place July 6!), I am looking at a few other applications for Shou-sugi-ban. I think a dining table has got to happen. How about this look for a board room table? It looks great and is just a perfect way to bring some serious design chops to humble, salvaged material that normally hits a construction bin and then a chipper. I get regular reminders of the work following Victoria Distillers on Instagram - drinkvicgin - as the tables and the wall treatments form the backdrop for a number of the photos they post. Check them out on-line or, better yet, in person after a tour and with a cocktail in hand. Let me know if you need something burnt in your next residential or commercial project! I have this black stuff figured out.