Andy Gem­mell’s Drinks Cab­i­net

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - DRINK -

Spey­side Cooper­age Dufftown Road, Craigel­lachie

His­tory: De­pend­ing on who you talk to, the cask that a whisky rests in can add be­tween 50 to 80 per cent of the spirit’s flavour, aroma and char­ac­ter. One thing is for sure, it is what makes our sin­gle malt whisky unique. Scotch whisky would not be the suc­cess it is to­day with­out cooper­ages here and all over the world. The an­cient art of build­ing, shav­ing and char­ring casks is an in­te­gral part of the whisky in­dus­try and at the Spey­side Cooper­age they give you an amaz­ing in­sight into the role of the cooper and the casks they cre­ate. The ori­gins of coop­ers go back to over 5,000 years ago and even to­day they still use many of the traditional age-old skills to re­store and re­pair tired and dam­aged casks. There has been a cooper­age on this site since 1947, build­ing. What is unique about The Spey­side Cooper­age is that you can actually get to see the coop­ers them­selves work­ing away and un­der­stand the his­tory and tra­di­tion of the craft.

The casks: Oak is the only wood that can be used in the age­ing of Scotch whisky. It is per­fect for its role be­cause it pre­vents seep­age while al­low­ing the contents to breathe. It can take up to 150 years for an oak tree to grow and more than 50 species of oak are grown world­wide, though only a few are suit­able for the mat­u­ra­tion of Scotch. A good cask can have a life­span of around 60 years, with it be­ing re­ju­ve­nated sev­eral times by the skilled coop­ers.

Favourite drams: At one time, ex-bour­bon casks from Amer­ica and ex-sherry casks from Spain were mainly used to age our whisky. Nowa­days you will find Port casks, French wine casks, Madeira casks and so on used in the age­ing of Scotch whisky, just so long as they are made of oak. Ev­ery in­di­vid­ual cask adds its own char­ac­ter to the spirit over time. My all-time favourite cask fin­ish would be the Spring­bank 12 Year Old Cal­va­dos Wood Fin­ish, which is now in­cred­i­bly hard to get your hands on. Or you could try The Dal­more King Alexan­der, which is aged in no less than six dif­fer­ent types of casks.

Why visit? There is a 45-minute tour of­fered for £3.50 and a more in-depth 90 minute tour which, you will have to phone ahead to book. There is also an informative 4-D cin­e­matic pre­sen­ta­tion fol­lowed by a visit to the view­ing gallery where you can watch first-hand the coop­ers at work. I was truly blown away by the work that the coop­ers do. It’s in­cred­i­ble to watch them cre­ate the casks by hand. It is great we still have traditional trades like this in this day and age.

In­ter­est­ing fact: In or­der to be called Scotch whisky, it has to be ma­tured here in Scot­land for a min­i­mum of three years. At one time there are more than 20 mil­lion casks of ma­tur­ing whisky. That’s al­most four for ev­ery per­son in Scot­land. Fol­low me on Twit­ter @andy­drink or on Face­book

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