Andy Gemmell’s Drinks Cabinet
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