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07 Jul 2016 By

Cooperage – the art of barrel making – is a thousand-year-old skill that hasn’t really changed. Fact: Without wood, there would be no whisky. Here’s a look at this valuable and vital part of creating our favourite spirit.

Some of the tools, and working conditions, may have improved, but cooperage is largely a thousand-year-old craft that’s unchanged. You pound some staves together, arrange it within a metal ring to make a sealed container, and you store food or alcohol in it. Nowadays casks are mostly used for certain spirits, but like songwriting, it looks easy but takes a real talent to make it sing. And it’s a much sought-after skill.

Speyside Cooperage

Speyside Cooperage churns out 100,000 casks a year, new ones and mostly repaired ones. A veteran can craft on average 20-25 casks a day, and although they work for the cooperage, they only get paid per finished cask – they get paid well though – and if they’re having a bad day, they don’t get paid (rarely happens).

Speyside Cooperage

Apprentices are schooled for four years before they take a test and are certified. After that they’re free to work for a company or strike out.

Speyside Cooperage

Stocks are refreshed weekly (mostly from Kentucky). Speyside Cooperage is a family-owned biz since 1947, and should be a cool diversion while on your whisky tour of Speyside. They’ve managed to turn the warehouse into a tourist attraction. 

Speyside Cooperage

The craftsmen? They’re superstars we reckon. You wouldn’t get your barrels, hogsheads, butts and puncheons without them. The work includes malleting, charring, riveting, staving, shaving, repairing, sealing and testing.

Speyside Cooperage

From acorn to cask takes about a hundred years. The whisky you’re drinking is a part of spirits history.

Like this? Here are 5 great whisky stories (yes, Frank Sinatra is in one of them)


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