For many of us, the thought of slipping into our own ice bath on a scorching day or taking a dip in a hot tub on a chilly evening sounds nothing short of bliss. But with such tubs often costing hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds, it can be tricky to find a good quality affordable option - not to mention something that's compact enough to fit squeeze into our gardens.
This is where The Barrelman comes in to the rescue. The Welsh family-run business, which opened at the start of the first lockdown, delivers empty whiskey barrels all over the UK, including ones which have been converted for use as ice baths and woodfired hot tubs. Two years later and the company, which is based in Aberbeeg, has been a roaring success with both individual buyers and other companies, such as garden centres and craft breweries.
Managing director John Bailey explained that before this new venture, he had worked in marketing for many years as an advertising sales manager. He decided to take a six month break to see if the idea of buying used whiskey barrels from Scotland and Ireland, revamping them and reselling them would take off. Today, his company is one of the largest barrel suppliers in the country, with 60,000 barrels having been sold last year. You can read all our Blaenau Gwent stories here.
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"We opened around two years ago at the start of lockdown, selling barrels and making furniture. Since then we have grown quickly and now supply B&Q, Homebase, Blue Diamond, Notcutts, and around 700 other garden centres, with half whiskey barrel planters [and half] oak barrel waterbutts," said the 44-year-old, adding: "We also build the ice baths from the larger barrels, and also a hot tub version for the people that might not want the cold option."
Asked how his eight-strong team came up with the innovative idea of transforming the barrels into ice baths and hot tubs, John explained: "We were looking at some made for cold water swimmers in Ireland, in a little bay in Cork where they have them next to the sea - so they could come out and have a hot chocolate etc and a warm up. We thought maybe someone will want one, especially with the price of heating hot tubs with electricity."
And the idea has been a hit with customers of all ages, who have flocked to the company's Facebook page to nab one of their own. "They're perfect if you wanted a soak at the bottom of the garden, or in the middle of a field," said John. He's sold around 200 ice baths alone nationwide, which come with a tap and a lid. They are simply filled with a hose pipe through the top, with a hose connector able to fit to the tap to drain the water away.
At the cheapest end of the scale is an unfinished 500L barrel, costing £90. If you want your barrel refurbished - cleaned, sanded and treated with Danish oil - that will cost £150. You can get a refurbished barrel with a built-in seat for £180, while one with both seats and steps costs £230.
"We wanted to offer people on a budget something they can afford, as most ice baths from barrels are around £300," said John. Meanwhile, he explains the hot tub comes with a steel coil fitted in a steel tank, a heat proof pipe and connectors, and a tap to turn off the water supply once it's up to the right temperature.
"The steel coil is a woodfired burner. [You] fill the barrel with cold water. Once you add wood inside the coil and light it, the heat and pressure pushes the hot water into the barrel."
As well as ensuring the tubs do not use any electricity, John said that the company has a "zero waste policy", so they also sell the offcuts from the wood. "Any wood left over from the barrels is woodchipped or chopped into bags for BBQs and smokers," he said. To sign up for our Blaenau Gwent newsletter, click here.