Roll Out The Bar­rel

Wil­lie Shand vis­its Spey­side Cooper­age to find out more about a fas­ci­nat­ing tra­di­tional craft.

The People's Friend Special - - REAL LIFE -

IAll of the tim­ber used by the cooper­age comes from sus­tain­able forests. The logo of the Spey­side Cooper­age sums it up well – Acorn to Cask. t’s been said that if you throw a stone any­where in Spey­side, it has a good chance of hit­ting a dis­tillery. That’s no ex­ag­ger­a­tion – Glen­fid­dich, Ballindal­loch, Glen­far­clas, Glen Grant, Aber­lour, Glen Dronach, Glen­livet and many more world-fa­mous names are tucked away in ev­ery re­cess.

Spey­side lies at the very heart of Scot­land’s malt whisky coun­try. Here, you don’t need to drink to be­come in­tox­i­cated – just go for a walk.

Within the bonded ware­houses mil­lions of gal­lons of whisky, the wa­ter of life, will ma­ture for many years. The casks may be full to start with, but af­ter three, five, ten or how­ever many years, when opened again, a large per­cent­age will be miss­ing, evap­o­rated through the cask into the open air.

That’s maybe why ev­ery­one in Spey­side looks so happy – it’s more than blood runs through their veins!

This evap­o­rated vol­ume is known as the An­gels’ Share. The longer the ma­tur­ing pe­riod, the more will evap­o­rate, hence the more ex­pen­sive a bot­tle of the stuff be­comes.

Each dis­tillery pro­duces its own par­tic­u­lar and dis­tinct whisky us­ing well-guarded se­crets. The ba­sic in­gre­di­ents, how­ever, are pretty much the same – bar­ley and good spring wa­ter. But there is an­other fac­tor that will greatly in­flu­ence the flavour and colour of the end prod­uct and that is the cask it­self.

This morn­ing, I’ve driven north to Craigel­lachie where prepa­ra­tions are un­der­way for the start of the Spirit of Spey­side Whisky Fes­ti­val. I’ve not come all this way to tour a dis­tillery, but rather to visit a place that makes th­ese all-im­por­tant casks – the Spey­side Cooper­age.

Craigel­lachie sits above the right bank of the River Spey about four miles north of Dufftown. At 110 miles long, the Spey, famed for its salmon, is sec­ond only in length to the River Tay.

The Spey­side Cooper­age stands out on the Dufftown road on the top side of

The Amer­i­can casks hold 40 gal­lons. Hogsheads hold 56 gal­lons and Span­ish butts 110 gal­lons. the vil­lage. While many dis­til­leries open their doors to wel­come visi­tors, this is the only cooper­age in the UK with a vis­i­tor cen­tre and where you can ac­tu­ally watch the coopers at work.

Cooper­ing is an an­cient art. It was even prac­tised 5,000 years ago in Egypt. Yet how many of us would know just what’s in­volved in the daily work of a cooper? How many of us would know when you’d use a chiv plane as op­posed to a stave plane, a crumb knife, a croze or a skil­lop? By the end of the day, hope­fully I’ll be a bit wiser.

Spey­side Cooper­age was es­tab­lished in 1947 and in the court­yard a wee grey lorry from that era stands loaded up with casks. Lor­ries have changed a lot since 1947; the busi­ness has con­sid­er­ably ex­panded but the prod­uct, the cask, has not changed. With a life­span of around 60 years, there are prob­a­bly a few casks from 1947 still in use to­day.

A good num­ber of the cooper­age’s 14 full-time coopers and six ap­pren­tices will be fol­low­ing in their fa­thers’ foot­steps, their skills passed down fa­ther to son. That was cer­tainly the case for for­mer cooper Ron­nie Grant

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