£10 MILLION CAMBUS COOPERAGE FOR WHISKY CASKS BRINGS ANCIENT CRAFT INTO 21ST CENTURY

Recognising the still-growing demand around the world for Scotch, particularly in the emerging markets of Asia and Latin America, Diageo is investing in growing Scotch whisky production capacity across Scotland. To accommodate additional production, a good supply of top quality oaks casks is needed, so Diageo has built a new state-of-the art Cooperage at Cambus, near Alloa in Fife.

Robot loading cask for firing

The coopers there will craft around 250,000 casks each year – all of which will be used to mature Scotch whisky for Diageo’s world leading brands, such as Johnnie Walker and J&B Rare, and Diageo’s famous collection of single malt Scotch whiskies like Talisker, Lagavulin, Caol Ila, Oban and The Singleton of Glen Ord.

The Cambus site  – the first new cooperage to be built in Scotland for decades –  has been designed “by the coopers for the coopers”, drawing on generations of skill, craft and experience and combining it with the state-of-the-art British engineering – never before used in a cooperage – to dramatically improve the working lives of the coopers.

Diageo has invested £10 million* in the new purpose-built cooperage. It employs over 100 people: 40 coopers, 39 operators and team leaders and has eight apprentices. A further 20 people are involved in maintenance, transport and support services.

The new Cambus cooperage was opened on 28 November by His Royal Highness, the Earl of Wessex, who toured the new cooperage and met a range of time-served coopers, including some with decades of experience in the trade, as well Diageo’s apprentice coopers who are now able to hone their skills in a custom-built coopering school within the new cooperage.

Calum Bruce, Prince Edward, Brian Law

Calum Bruce, 51, one of Diageo’s longest serving coopers with 35 years’ service, having started in the trade at age 16, explained the difference the new ways of working had made to the coopers.

He said: “A lot has changed over the last 35 years, but the basic skills have stayed the same. But Cambus is something different altogether. We still use the same skills to do the same job, but the difference is the machines now do a lot of the heavy lifting so we don’t have to spend time and effort on hard labour and we can focus on the skilled part of the job. That is what has really transformed the way we work.”

Brian Law, one of eight apprentices currently learning their trade on Diageo’s four-year apprentice scheme, also welcomed the investment the company has made in the future of the trade. He said: “It is a really exciting time to be learning my trade as a cooper. At Cambus, Diageo has an investment in the future of coopering and that’s also an investment in the futures of all the guys who work here.”

Classic coopering skills& strength are still needed

“We wanted to maximise the craft skills which are the core of the job, while using smart technology to minimise the back-breaking bending and heavy-lifting which causes physical damage to the guys doing the job.”

Tom Duncan, a manager at Cambus, was one of the team tasked with leading the new cooperage project and explained the ethos behind the cooperage: “It’s not often you get to start with a blank sheet of paper and design something like this from scratch. From the start the basic principal was that this would be a cooperage designed by coopers for coopers.”

“We wanted to maximise the craft skills which are the core of the job, while using smart technology to minimise the back-breaking bending and heavy-lifting which causes physical damage to the guys doing the job.”

To achieve this, the Diageo team turned to Leicester-based engineering firm CI Logistics, which works primarily in the car industry, and together they custom-designed a series of mechanical conveyors to move the casks – which weigh up to 85kg when empty – around the cooperage between the hand-craft elements of the process. The result is the world’s most unique and innovative cooperage.

See also BBC News report & film.

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*Note: £10 million = €11.7 million or US $ 15.8 million

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