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Issue 130 - Atomic No. 29

Whisky Magazine Issue 130
September 2015


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Atomic No. 29

The art and skills of the coppersmith

It's a real irony. Copper receives a lot of attention, and credit for influencing the character of the new make spirit during distillation. But what about the coppersmiths, who are rarely mentioned, though without them nothing would happen.

Coppersmiths have a broad role which includes creating, installing, maintaining and replacing pot stills, condensers and spirit safes.

One distillery which has a coppersmith within the distillery team is The Balvenie, where Dennis McBain attained 50 years service as resident coppersmith in 2008, and he continues to provide support on a consultancy basis. Meanwhile, Diageo owns Abercrombie Coppersmiths, which has a history dating back to 1790 and employs 43 coppersmiths (who are responsible for Diageo's 28 malt whisky distilleries). Additionally, a specialist company such as Forsyths, which offers distilleries a full design, installation and maintenance service, has its own team of 15 coppersmiths.

“It's a specialised craft – you can't go into the local labour market and look for a coppersmith – you've got to train them from scratch. We take on three trainees a year, for a five year apprenticeship.

First and foremost candidates must show a willingness to learn, and be reasonably fit, as it's very physical work,” says Richard Forsyth, chairman of Forsyths.

Charles King, Abercrombie's operations manager, adds, “We're looking for people who take great pride in what they do, and who like working with their hands. We've taken on t...

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