I stuttered stepped the moment I walked through this manufacturer cooperage's door.
No, nothing was impeding my path.
It was the sudden and very welcome shock to all my other senses that had me staggering at the entrance of this bourbon and wine cooperage.
The aroma of charred white oak wafted with the force of the opened doors, fully embracing each individual in a warm hug.
My eyes played out a game of Pong — bouncing between machines, workers, and conveyor belts until it finally tracked down the barrels.
The sheer number of barrels rolling in every direction, including up, was enough to give you whiplash.
But I was buzzing with excitement at all the activity.
Our tour guide, Lance, gave us each a headset to communicate on our tour.
The roar from the machinery would have silenced any conversation we may have had without them.
Once the headsets were on, the static in our ears, identical to white noise, was quickly interrupted by Lance's immense knowledge of barrel production.
My brain had to catch up with the words Lance was quickly sharing.
As did my feet, which shuffled fast behind him.
Judging by Lance's pace, we had a lot of ground to cover.
Which only enchanted me more.
We weaved in, out, and up stairs to catch the first step of their barrel-making process.
That's when my senses finally caught up.
Slender pieces of stave were snatched by worn leather gloves and inspected by keen eyes.
Staves flew through the hands of proficient workers.
Left, right and everywhere we looked.
Sharp saws snipped the planks to perfection and delicate precision.
I reached out to touch a completed piece.
The golden-colored stave's texture, weight and smooth edges were all equally impressive.
Once faultless, the staves made their final solo journey and were united with their brothers and sisters to form a barrel.
I watched as an employee assembled the barrel at an incredible speed.
And with two final hits of his hammer,
they wedged the last stave in—creating a barrel.
"Was this man a bootlegger?" I laughed to myself.
I would have quickly forgotten it was 2023 if not for the automation.
Once formed, the barrels hitchhiked on a conveyor belt to their next destination.
The track replicated a highway- stretching to every corner of the facility.
It was hypnotic watching the process.
Hundreds of barrels journeying between workers and machines.
One stop, in particular, caught my eye...and other senses.
Flames, steam, twinkling monitors and smoke all working together to char the inside of the barrels.
Some were charred as dark as a new moon's sky, others the color of an Arizona sunset.
Smoldering embers floated above the flames.
I drank up the smell as quickly as my nose allowed.
An intoxicating aroma.
I was instantly transported to a Colorado mountainside sunset.
The scent of pine and earth danced along a soft summer breeze, roasted marshmallows over an open fire and a glass of bourbon in hand.
Lance's voice quickly awoke me from the charring station's spell.
My attention was redirected to the one individual who monitored nearly a dozen barrels.
Each barrel hovered over an open flame and fed by what I could only assume were staves that didn't make the cut.
The employee's eyes surveyed a monitor that gauged the temperature of each barrel.
If the fire burned too hot, a water hose directly above would drip, smoldering the fire.
If the fires were dying out, the employee would toss in wood scraps to reignite it instantly.
Over and over again, I watched these so-called enemies work together.
The unspoken message rang loud and clear—unity.
The underlying force behind this massive cooperage was simply unity between man and machine.
It wasn't just the power of automation that allowed this manufacturing company to thrive.
No, it was the firm grip of an employee's weathered gloves,
the muscle memory of each thump of the hammer,
and the warmth from the handfed fires hungry to burn.
Every step of the journey was cared for by both man and machine.
Old-school manufacturing colliding with new.
And I quickly realized I was witnessing Star-crossed lovers.
Man and machine dance in a perfected waltz through the engines' steam, smoke and roar.
Once you had seen it, you couldn't look away.
A beautiful pinnacle for the future of the industry.