The unsung heroes of Scotch whisky

1st February, 2019 by Amy Hopkins


George Singer – The Balvenie

Almost 25 years ago, George Singer started his career as an apprentice welder/fabricator at William Reid Engineering in Forres, Scotland. In 2001, after completing a Higher National Certificate in mechanical engineering “on the side”, Singer joined William Grant & Sons as a maintenance engineer for its famous Glenfiddich and The Balvenie distilleries. The whisky industry, he claims, was where he wanted to be.

“I settled in quickly and learnt a lot of new skills from my new colleagues, in particular Dennis McBain, who was the company’s coppersmith,” he recalls.

“Back then, Dennis was the only second coppersmith in the company’s history, and worked for William Grant & Sons for more than 50 years. He was heavily invested in his role, and even to this day he still checks in to see we are doing everything to his high standards.”

As McBain slowed down his work schedule, Singer began a coppersmith apprenticeship and worked with still maker Forsyths for four months. He is now responsible for all copper work at The Balvenie Distillery, including its stills, condensers and spirit safes – and even discussed his craft with famed chef Michel Roux Jr in The Balvenie’s Craftsmen’s Dinner series.

Indeed, the work of coppersmiths is not confined to pure mechanics – they play an important part in the final flavour of the whisky. Singer explains: “At The Balvenie, the distinctive shape of our stills gives the whisky its honeyed flavour, and it’s the coppersmith’s skills that are essential for maintaining The Balvenie’s character.”

The work of a coppersmith is strenuous, says Singer, but it is rewarding, and younger people should be encouraged to enter the trade.

He says: “Being a coppersmith is an often overlooked craft. Yes, it’s physically demanding, but it’s a very rewarding job and is a great opportunity for young people who aren’t scared of hard work.”

It is also a career with longevity, as Singer explains: “My favourite whisky is The Balvenie Portwood, which is 21 years old. In three-­and-­a-­half years’ time I will have worked at The Balvenie for 21 years, and I look forward to tasting my favourite whisky knowing I have had a hand in creating it.”

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