Louisville Business First Features K-RAX: Koetter Group launches new distiller-focused business division

Source: Louisville Business First

The Koetter Group, a Floyds Knobs, Indiana-based holding company focusing on contracting, commercial development and real estate, is moving into the bourbon space with its new business division.  

Bob Koetter Jr., president of Koetter Construction Inc., said the company’s new K-RAX division, which launched this month, offers two main services: the construction of premium rickhouses and portable bourbon barrel racking systems.  

He said K-RAX was developed out of one of its subsidiaries, Koetter Building Services, after the company was doing restoration and repair work for a few major, unnamed distillery clients. 

“They were so pleased with the work we were doing, they asked us if we could come up with a new “mousetrap,” for their new warehouses and if we’d be interested in building a new warehouse,” Koetter said in an interview. “About three years ago, we started working on different prototypes and teamed up with an insuring firm and our cousins, Koetter Woodworking, and we created a new type of building that we could preassemble in a warehouse, put it on a truck, haul it to the site and lift it with a crane in place and really, eliminate almost 70% to 80% of the labor out of it.”  

Koetter said K-RAX came to fruition due to a shortage of bourbon barrel aging warehouses in Kentucky. 

Bourbon barrels aging in Kentucky reached a record in 2020, with 9.8 million barrels counted as of Jan. 1, the highest level since 1968, according to Distillerytrail.com, a news outlet covering spirits and distilling. 

“(Distillers) are distilling more every day and they’re adding more distillers, a lot of startup distillers,” Koetter said of his group’s reason for founding K-RAX. “And the fact that there’s a lot of them that are really old and need to be replaced. We knew there was a need there for several years to come. It’s a good opportunity to create a new design.” 

Koetter said the company was in the process of finishing an assembly plant in Jeffersonville, Indiana, for the production of the rickhouses and portable racking systems. For the rickhouses, he said the company developed modules similar to Lincoln Logs that are assembled in the warehouse and then put together on site.

“On a 60,000-barrel warehouse, there may be 500 modules,” Koetter said. “Once the footings and foundations are in and we start putting the modules in place, that part would be done in a couple hours. Then you still have to put the roof and the walls on, but it definitely speeds up the main construction.”

For the portable racking system, Koetter said the company has developed a six- and 12-barrel storage option that also can be stacked and moved with a forklift to, from or within a distillery without having to touch the barrels. He said the barrel racking system was made for aging bourbon and wine barrels.  

“We realized there’s a big opportunity in the wine industry,” Koetter said. “They usually don’t stack barrels really high; a lot of those are smaller wineries and they may only bottle a couple barrels a day. So, these racks could be very handy for them and easy to maneuver barrels around.” 

While Koetter said K-RAX has already begun selling its products online, the new subsidiary has also partnered with the University of Kentucky’s James B. Beam Institute, supplying its rickhouse storage system for the university to construct a 600-barrel learning facility for their students and scientists. 

“It’s been interesting working with distillers and barrel-rollers,” Koetter said. “They really appreciate the quality of what we put together and the thought we put into it.”