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Introducing The Stave & Thief Society

Published on:

July 8, 2020

Moonshine University is the premiere education provider for all things distilling. Located in the heart of Bourbon country, it’s natural that the world-class distillery school would also offer a special curriculum dedicated to America’s native spirit. Enter, The Stave & Thief Society.

The Society Is Born

Bourbon is the lifeblood of Kentucky’s history, culture, and economy. That’s why, over the years, the City of Louisville has been attentive to launching several initiatives dedicated to preserving and promoting Bourbon knowledge. As part of one such initiative, Moonshine University was asked to gather its network of experts to create an authentic, standardized Bourbon experience — and we delivered.

Founded in 2014, the Stave & Thief Society is the first Bourbon certification program to be recognized by the industry and the only to be named the Kentucky Distillers’ Association’s “Official Bourbon Education Course.” Today, the number of Bourbon Stewards in our membership has surpassed 3,300 individuals and almost 150 Establishments (businesses and organizations) from around the globe.

Certified vs. Executive

The Bourbon Certification can be completed online in a self-study format — just order the book, study at your own pace, then take the test when you’re ready! But for professionals and enthusiasts that visit Moonshine University, the Executive program provides a special treat.

The Executive experience involves a day-long workshop at our hands-on learning center where attendees get to achieve a real working knowledge of Bourbon and its production. With state-of-the-art classroom training, hands-on distilling, and advanced sensory training, along with plenty of the good stuff to taste throughout the day — for educational purposes, of course.

By the end of the day, attendees will have gained a strengthened understanding of the technical side of Bourbon production, its history and relationship to other whiskeys, and the variety of aromas and flavors found in different expressions. Both industry professionals and enthusiasts alike will walk away with all the tools needed to build creative flights, guide engaging sensory experiences, and speak with knowledge and confidence when sharing their appreciation for Kentucky’s signature spirit.


What’s in a Name?

The Stave & Thief Society program was named for two integral tools in whiskey production.

To make a standard 52-gallon barrel, you need about 30 staves cut from a white American oak. The staves are held together with a series of steel hoops and rivets, then the new barrel is charred and toasted. This process will be responsible for imparting most of the Bourbon’s characteristic flavors during the aging process.

Meanwhile, a whiskey thief is a tool that master distillers use to extract small amounts of a spirit from an aging barrel for sampling or quality control purposes. The old-fashioned devices are typically made from copper and resemble a drinking straw in design. Newer versions can be made of clear plastic or glass, with some larger models having the capability of accepting a hydrometer for testing purposes.

The way it works is simple. The thief has a coned narrow hole at the bottom and a vent hole at the top. A distiller will cover the vent hole with the thumb after inserting the thief into the bunghole. This traps the spirit so it can be lifted out of the barrel. By removing the thumb from the vent hole, the spirit can then be drained into a glass for tasting.


Behind the Crest

The Stave & Thief Society crest pays homage to Bourbon knowledge and the society that is dedicated to the promotion of the spirit.

The crest depicts crossed thieves stamped with a Fleur-de-Lis — the symbol of King Louis XVI of France and the namesake for Louisville.

To the left of the crossed thieves are the Roman numerals LI, or 51, which is the percentage of the mash bill that must be corn in order to make it Bourbon.

To the right of the thieves are CLX for 160, which is the maximum proof that Bourbon can come off the still.

Above the thieves are the numerals CXXV, or 125, which is the maximum proof at which Bourbon can be barreled.

Below the thieves is I representing the one new oak barrel in which a Bourbon must be aged.

Finally, the MDCCLXXVI to the bottom of the crest indicate 1776 — the year that America became a sovereign nation. This is included to symbolize Bourbon’s distinction as a uniquely American spirit.


The Pin & Challenge Coin

When a Bourbon Steward passes their test to become an official lifetime member of the Stave & Thief Society, they are awarded a crossed thieves pin to wear proudly. Many choose to wear their pin to the workplace — whether that be a Bourbon bar or distillery tasting room — industry events, and enthusiast gatherings.

A special challenge coin is also awarded to every Bourbon Steward that successfully completes the Executive program. Armed with the knowledge and confidence needed to share their passions for whiskey and Bourbon, the coin serves as a reminder of that mission as well as a token of accomplishment.

Of course, once awarded a challenge coin, a Bourbon Steward is expected to carry it always. This is enforced by fellow Stewards, who are at any time liable to display their own coin as a “challenge.” If the responding Steward cannot produce their own, they’ll be obligated to buy the challenger a drink. Chances are, they’ll ask for Bourbon.

Want to professionalize your passion for Bourbon? Visit for more information.

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