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【Cooperage Visit】Fishers Cooperage – Behind the Scenes

2024.04.22 / 最終更新日:2024.04.22
Fishers Cooperage

Have you ever wondered how whisky casks are made? Or the crucial role of repairing casks in the whisky-making process? In this article, we delve into our exclusive visit to Fishers Cooperage, where around 25 remarkable craftsmen reproduce a vast number of casks every day.

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About Fishers Cooperage Ltd.

Introduction

Founded in 1998 by George McGhee in Glasgow, Fishers Cooperage stands as the last independent cooperage in Scotland. George, along with his wife Mary and their children Graham and Susan, have managed the repair of various casks. They supply not only to Scotland but also extend their services beyond.

Basic Information

Company Fishers Cooperage Ltd.
Location 357 Shettleston Rd, Glasgow G31 5JL, UK
Year of Establishment 1998
Contact fisherscooperage@btconnect.com

Cooperage Visit

During our visit to Fishers Cooperage in Glasgow, Dear WHISKY had the honor of being led by Mr. Philip, the most experienced cooper at the Fishers Cooperage. With nearly four decades of experience in the craft, Philip began his journey as a cooper at just 16 years old. After thirty years at Diageo, he has dedicated the past 11 years to Fishers Cooperage, now passing on his expertise to younger apprentices.

Mr. Philip at Fishers Cooperage

Mr. Philip at Fishers Cooperage

Cask-repairing Process

Dear WHISKY:
What is the repair process, which is a specialization of Fishers Cooperage?

Philip:
There are various and many steps involved, but the essence of cask repair is consistent across any cask type. First, we bring a cask into our workshop and carefully inspect it.

While some casks only have slightest wrong with it, others may require repairs depending on their condition.

Inspection and disassembling casks

Inspecting and disassembling casks

Philip:
Once we identify any damaged areas, we replace the affected parts and put the hoops to ensure a tight fit.

The positioning of these hoops is important, requiring precision to maintain the proper sealing of the cask.

We even use our fingers for measurement, which is a skill you need to learn. Next, we fill any gaps with water reed and carefully remove any excess wood for a smooth finish.

Repairing the hoops

Repairing the hoops

Philip:
Finally, we test a cask to ensure its tightness. This involves filling the cask with water to check for any potential leaks. We inspect both ends, spinning the cask around to assess it from all angles. Once confirmed, the repaired casks are collected and transported to distilleries where they will be filled with whisky or other spirits.

Dear WHISKY:
How long does it take to repair one cask?

Philip:
It can be different depending on the specific issues of each cask. While some casks may take only five minutes of work, others could take 45 minutes.

Typically, larger casks like Sherry Butts (500L) tend to require more time for repairs compared to smaller ones.

Smoothing the surface of the casks

Smoothing the surface of the casks

Dear WHISKY:
What is the hardest step of repairing casks?

Philip:
I would say, joining the staves. They must be at the exact angle.

If you remove a stave from the barrel for replacement, the new one must match perfectly.

This means replicating the sizes and angles precisely. Mastering this skill is difficult, especially with larger casks, but it comes with experience.

Tool for shaving off XX

Tool for shaving off water reeds

Tools

Dear WHISKY:
Where do coopers get their professional tools from?

Philip:
Our tools are from specialized suppliers, and not available in regular tool shops.

Usually, apprentices receive a set of tools from Prince Edward when they start working.

This support saves coopers hundreds of thousands of pounds, which is essential for sustaining the coopering industry alive.

Coopers' tools. Holding these heavy tools can be quite tough.

Coopers’ tools. Holding these heavy tools can be quite tough.

Recycling staves

Dear WHISKY:
What will you do with the damaged staves?

Philip:
We offer people the staves for use as firewood, so that nothing goes to waste. Everything here has a purpose.

Char

Philip:
Here’s our facility for charring casks. We use a traditional machine, with which the cask is rotated while the inside is set on fire. Although we don’t, this machine can be used for smoking fish and meat.

Dear WHISKY:
What is the char process for?

Philip:
Charring helps to both the flavor and color of whisky, a process we call “Rejuvenating the cask.”

We breathe new life into it, opening up all the wood and facilitating better maturation of the whisky.

This process effectively burns away any remnants of previous spirits, leaving the cask fresh and ready for its next fill. 

During charring, we could smell the smoky, a shelly-originated sweetness

Backyard

Philip:
Let’s take a look at the backyard where we store the casks. There are approximately 10,000 casks here, all of them need to be repaired. 

Backyard

Backyard

Philip:
Now that the truck has arrived, we employ a forklift to load the casks. One big truck can carry 150 barrels each. On average, we receive around 600 casks per day. Some days a bit less, some days more, depending on the types of the casks.

This means approximately 3,000 casks in and out per week.

The casks we work come from all over the world, including Scotland, the United States, Europe, and Russia.

Shipping to distilleries

In Fishers Cooperage, they repair between 100 and 400 casks a day

Interview with Philip

How one becomes a cooper

Dear WHISKY:
How long does it take for people to be a cooper?

Philip:
Becoming proficient usually takes about a year. Being proficient means that they will be able to examine what’s wrong with the cask, master the use of tools and machinery, and develop their skills in repair the casks.

Dear WHISKY:
How do coopers receive training?

Philip:

Apprentices undergo four years of formal training, which you get paid.

Once completed the traineeship, they are tested by external evaluators, including representatives from other cooperages and the National Cooperage Federation. Successfully passing these examinations earns them the title of qualified cooper, which grants them the ability to work in cooperages around the world.

Moving repaired casks to the backyard

Moving repaired casks to the backyard

Dear WHISKY:
How do you educate your people to learn these skills?

Philip:
Larger companies often have a school for training coopers. However, in independent cooperages like Fishers Cooperage, trainees are paired with experienced workers and learn by shadowing the seniors. As a supervisor, I oversee their progress and teach them every day.

Damaged areas are marked with a white sign

Damaged areas are marked with a white sign

Changes in Coopers Industry

Dear WHISKY:
Has the way of working at the cooperage changed over the years?

Philip:
There’s been a slight change in terms of machinery. Back when I was younger, we relied more on manual techniques. For example, driving the hoops into place was done by hand with a hammer. Nowadays, there’s a compressing machine for that. Despite these advancements, the quality of the casks has remained consistent.

Tightening the casks with hoops

Compressing machine for putting hoops into place

Joy of working at Fishers Cooperage

Dear WHISKY:
What do you like about working here?

Philip:
It’s always great to see the boys when they join. At first they’re very insecure.

They start off feeling insecure and inexperienced, but as they learn and grow, you can see them improving every day.

Witnessing their progress is always rewarding.

Philip demonstrating cask repair

Philip demonstrating cask repair

At Last

The symbiotic relationship between coopers and whisky makers is undeniable, serving as a crucial pillar of the thriving whisky industry.

Fishers Cooperage, with its focus on top-notch repairs and skilled craftsmen, shines as a beacon of excellence in the world of cooperages.

We extend our heartfelt appreciation to Philip and the team at Fishers Cooperage, including George, Graham, May, and Susan, for graciously hosting our exclusive visit. For whisky enthusiasts, the dedication of these coopers is something to be truly grateful for. 

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