Coopers: the workers behind whisky

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There is no doubt that Scotland is famous for many things, one of which is whisky. Every second that passes, 41 bottles of Scotch are being shipped around the world. However, has anyone heard of the coopers behind this massive industry?

A cooper is a specialised job, with the main job being to build and repair whisky barrels. Whisky barrels are important as they hold the alcohol and can give the beverage a different flavour, depending on the wood used.

Without these barrels being fixed or made to order, the whisky industry would not run as smoothly.

To become a cooper, you need to complete an apprenticeship within a cooperage. This can take up to 4 years from starting to undergoing the test to qualify. This is the same time it takes to gain an honours degree.

A cooperage is where coopers work. It is a building that usually has barrels stacked up. These are all different sizes depending on what goes into them, or what the distillery wants. These barrels then go on to hold whisky, sherry or Bourbon.

The coopers usually work from their own bench with special cooper tools. Some coopers are paid a salary, however most are paid by result. This means their money depends on how many barrels they get through.

This can be difficult if the barrels are major repairs as it takes longer to complete.

              Image credit: Taste of Home

In Scotland, there are around 300 skilled coopers, each trained to use special hand-crafted tools. Many cooperages are standalone businesses, however, four distilleries in Scotland have their cooperage onsite. Loch Lomond is one of the four.

On their website they say:

“Loch Lomond endeavours to maintain these skills to ensure their craft and knowledge are passed down to the next generation.”

This is important as in an average year in Loch Lomond’s cooperage 10 000 barrels need major repairs, and around 10 000 need to be re-charred to bring the wood back up to standard to be filled with whisky again.

At present they employ seven highly trained coopers to complete the job to the highest standard. This just illustrates the massive job coopers have completing these barrels. With early starts, and a physically demanding job, this is an impressive art.

So, the next time you pour yourself a wee dram, have a think of the highly trained cooper who got the ball rolling by having the barrel perfect. In turn, allowing for a beautiful whisky to mature inside.

Feature image credit: Loch Lomond Whiskies

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