The unsung heroes of Scotch whisky

1st February, 2019 by Amy Hopkins

Coopers

Kevin Arthur – Edrington

Coopering is a time-­honoured craft that is thought to predate the Roman age. While whisky-­making processes are becoming increasingly mechanised, apprentice coopers learn traditional techniques in an intense and thorough training course that lasts four years.

“Good fitness and being able to work with hand tools, as well as having an eye for detail, are key skills I use to make sure the casks I produce are of the highest quality,” says Kevin Arthur, who has worked at Edrington for 20 years, starting as a general worker at its Lochwinnoch cooperage before becoming a cooper based at The Macallan’s new £140 million (US$180m) distillery.

The Scottish group is one of the biggest investors in Spanish oak, spending millions of pounds every year on casks from Jerez. Last year, The Macallan’s managing director, Scott McCroskie, told The Spirits Business: “We obsess about wood because we believe it sets us apart and underwrites the quality of our whisky.”

Workers such as Arthur are therefore integral to Edrington’s core ethos. “I take my role very seriously and make sure that only the very best quality casks are going to be used for The Macallan,” he says.

“I now have first­hand involvement in the Sherry casks that come into The Macallan from Spain, and can see the value that this investment provides.”

At Macallan’s new site, Arthur spends his days checking casks that have been emptied and preparing them for refilling, as well as assessing newly filled casks that might need small repairs. He says: “I would certainly encourage the next generation into the trade. It’s a great career and when you see a cask come full circle, and the golden colours that come out of it, it makes you realise that was a job well done.”

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