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Issue 42 - Staringdownabarrel

Whisky Magazine Issue 42
September 2004

 

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Staringdownabarrel

IanWisniewskilooksattheroleofthecooperandassesseswhatfuturetheprofessionhas

Oakmanagementhasbecomeamantraintheindustry,reflectingthefactthatbetween40-70percentofamalt'sflavourisderivedfromthecask.Butthepeoplewhohelptoensurethatcasksgiveoftheirbest,thecoopers,rarelygetamention.

Theprofessiondividesupintoproduction,bondandservicecoopers.Generallybasedatdistilleriesandcommercialcooperages,productioncoopersare‘all-rounders,'providingacomprehensiverangeofservicessuchasrepairingandrejuvenatingcasks,reassemblingstaves,enlargingbarrelsintohogsheads,andfittingnewbarrelheadsandends.

Bondcoopersaretypicallybasedatbondedwarehouses,checkingforleaksandcoveringbasicrepairsoncasks(notnecessarilyemptyatthetime).

Servicecoopershavesimilarresponsibilities,basedatbondedwarehousesorcooperages,whilealsoundertakingrepairssuchasfittingnew
barrelheadsandends.

AccordingtoTheNationalCooperageFederation,thenumberofcoopersandapprenticeshasdeclinedfromapeakof623coopersin1990(admittedlyanunusuallystrongyear)to229coopersin2003.Thislatesttotaldividesinto45servicecoopers,15bondcoopers,17foremenand145productioncoopers(with62productioncoopersemployedbycommercialcooperages).

Akeyfactoristhatoverthepastfouryearsthelevelofdumpings(ie.whiskyemptiedfromcasks)hasexceededproduction,whilenewfillingscontinuetousecasksalreadyinthesystem.

Meanwhile,increasedmechanisationhasenabledfewermentodofarmore.Driving(puttingon)andremovingcaskhoopswasalwaysconsideredthemostdemandingjob,hardlysurprisingwhenwieldinga5lbhammeranddriver(woodenimplementwithagroovedsteelhead).

Theintroductionofmechanical...

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