By Tom Lotshaw
A home patio makeover inspired Brian Case ’00 to transform an old bourbon barrel into a custom fire pit, a project that quickly grew into an unexpected side business – Prometheus Barrels.
When the world locked down in 2020, Case and his wife wanted to create a patio space where they could relax and watch the kids play in the yard of their Knoxville, Tennessee home.
With new pavers, garden plants and furniture all in place, they still needed one more thing: The fire pit. Their old one was in rough shape and Case wasn’t impressed with what he saw for sale.
“I love bourbon and whiskey just like everyone else in this huge insurgence of America’s spirit and I always thought it would be cool to have an old barrel on the patio. Then, I just started wondering if it was possible to make a fire pit out of the barrel,” Case said. “It was just this half-cocked idea I had.”
Case tried the idea. With some experimentation, he turned an old Wild Turkey barrel that he bought from a local distiller into a stylish new fire pit, complete with a propane tank hidden inside.
The barrel looked great on the patio. When Case posted a photo to a local bourbon group’s Facebook page, the response was overwhelming. People asked him to make one for them, using this or that bourbon or whiskey brand’s barrel, and this or that color of fire glass.
Case, an advertising executive for the local NBC affiliate, also showed his fire pit to a cidery in Kingsport, Tennessee and got his first commercial order. He soon launched Prometheus Barrels, named for the Greek god who gave humanity fire.
The fire pits have evolved and refined.
Barrel tops are carefully sawn off and made removable so they can cover the burner when the fire pit is not in use, but also function as small patio tables with fold-out legs. Bungs are made to house fire starters and flame adjusters. Casters make barrels easy to move and lock in place. A wide range of colors are possible for bands and fire glass, and Case works to source barrels from many popular bourbon and whiskey brands.
He’s also branched out into other barrel uses, making liquor cabinets and outdoor space heaters, and even coat and hat racks from the oak barrel staves.
Bourbon aficionados around the country — even internationally — have contacted Case to order a Prometheus Barrel. He recently shipped one with purple, gold and white fire glass to a fraternity brother who lives in Durham.
Case said he works closely with customers throughout every step of production to make barrels that are uniquely theirs.
“People want something unique and different, and when you see a barrel with fire coming out of it sitting on someone’s porch or deck, people are like, ‘Wow, that’s cool.’ It’s just been so much fun doing this, making new friends and connections who all share the same passion for bourbon,” Case said.