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Issue 103 - Return and Burn

Whisky Magazine Issue 103
April 2012

 

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Return and Burn

Neil Ridley visits Diageo's main cooperage to find out how cask life is being extended

Last Year, Diageo introduced its £10 million super cooperage at Cambus in Clackmannanshire, redefining the future of this traditional, and historically artisanal business. But what does the cooperage mean to the legacy of a cask?

On my first visit to Cambus, I must confess to feeling slightly apprehensive about what I was about to experience.

Coopering is perhaps one of the most essential elements within the process of maturing whisky – and comes hand in hand with decades of tried-and-tested craftsmanship, each cask a living, breathing vessel, which the cooper has painstakingly (and skillfully) bought to life. I wondered whether the influence of the 21st century and the greater emphasis that whisky companies place on efficiency would somehow jeopardise the legacy of the cooper as an artisan; machines replacing highly skilled individuals, whose human touch is individually etched into each and every stave they shape.

I was, of course, way off the mark. As I experienced first hand (in issue 99), coopering is now a thriving business, with the appointment of Cambus' new apprentices and a rigourous training scheme demonstrating Diageo's commitment to maintaining tradition alongside a modernist approach to meeting the increasing demands for whisky across the globe. But what was also abundantly clear was the greater emphasis placed on extending the life of the seven million-plus casks that Diageo currently own.

When it comes to wood management, the Cambus cooperage has five di...

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