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【Exclusive Interview】Part 2 : James Zorab – Lowland Bond – Edinburgh Whisky

2024.04.27 / 最終更新日:2024.04.27

Lowland Bond is an excise warehouse owned by Edinburgh Whisky. It stores and manages the whisky in place of cask owners with the approval of HMRC, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Custome. Opened in April 2023, Lowland Bond ensured the quality of the Scotch Whisky with the systems of fire prevention and cask management.

This time, we, Dear WHISKY, interviewed James Zorab, an operation manager of Lowland Bond. In Part 1, he explains basic information about Lowland Bond and shares how his career led to his current role and interests. Part 2 highlights the system and process of cask management, along with the future vision of Lowland Bond.

Check out this article too!

Introduction to Lowland Bond

How to build a facility to store casks

Dear WHISKY:
How did you build the facility?

James:
Since we bought the building that used to make parts for oil rigs, we first had to relay the floor to suit our business. In order to install racks, the framework to support the casks, the floor needed to be leveled.

Dear WHISKY:
What does the inside of the warehouse look like?

James:
The building is about 150 meters long, and the inside is separated into four zones.

Dear WHISKY:
How do you use each zone?

James:
We call the first zone the loading zone. We do all kinds of operations on the casks, such as regauging, re-racking, and ​​disgorging. The three areas after are cell one, cell two, and cell three. Each one is about 780 square meters, and we use them to store the casks.

Inside of the warehouse

The size of the warehouse

Dear WHISKY:
What is the capacity of Lowland Bond? What kind of casks are they composed of?

James:
Our capacity is around 20,000 casks. We have 572 sherry butts, which are the biggest casks and harder to store. The rest are all barrels and hogsheads.

Dear WHISKY:
How big is your capacity compared to other warehouses?

James:
Among independent warehouses, I think we’re quite big. The smaller independent warehouses store around 5,000 casks if they’re racked. If they’re palletized, in which you put casks on big wooden pallets and stack them up very high, you can store a lot more because it requires less space. In this way, even the smaller warehouse can store up to about 50,000 casks.

How to store casks

Dear WHISKY:
What are the disadvantages of storing casks in a palletized way?

James:
You cannot have access to the cask as you like. Once palletized you have to move everything out the way to access the one at the back. It is not an issue if you make whisky for a big batch purpose since you can leave the casks for ten years until they reach the 10-year mark. However, it becomes a disadvantage if you have many individual clients and do a lot of single-cask work.

Dear WHISKY:
How do you store casks?

James:
We use racks that are 14 tiers high, which are the tallest racks in the world, according to the people who built them. If you go to the central aisle, you will see casks on racks on the left and the right all the way through.

Dear WHISKY:
How do you decide the place for each cask?

James:
We sort casks not based on cells but on tiers. We keep anything rare on the bottom so that we can check it easily and quickly. For very expensive casks, you want to make sure that the cask is not leaking. Therefore, we keep the older or more expensive casks on the lower levels.

Using a lift to store a cask in the 4 tier-high rack

Measures to Protect the Cask

To prevent a fire in the warehouse

Dear WHISKY:
How are the facilities in the cask storage zones different from the ones in the first zone?

James:
All the lightings are specifically designed not to have any sparks. Also, the forklift used there is specially rated, and the kind of electronic devices that you can bring in is limited based on the regulations.

Dear WHISKY:
Why do you have to be so cautious in those areas?

James:
Because those are the maturation zones that have a slightly higher concentration of alcoholic vapor, which means the fire can occur easily. So, we call these areas “atex,” anti-explosion, and follow strict fire prevention measures.

Dear WHISKY:
How do you prevent fires in the “atex” area?

James:
Each zone is separated by firewalls. Also, we’ve got more than 50 call points and five sensors all over the place. If an alarm goes off, I get a call immediately and check the cameras. If it’s an actual alarm, the call gets directed to the police or the fire station. We’ve got the police headquarters just about a one-minute drive from here, so the response time is very quick. 

The high-security standard

Dear WHISKY:
What kind of security measures does Lowland Bond have? 

James:
As the HMRC-approved excise warehouse, we’ve got security cameras all the way around. We have security cameras internally at every single entrance as well. I’ve got an app on my phone that allows me to check the CCTV (closed-circuit television) whenever I want.

Giving quick access to samples

Dear WHISKY:
How long does it take to provide a sample for Lowland Bond?

James:
We have a policy to get a sample ready in a five-day turnaround. So, if you request it on a Monday, we should have a sample ready to send you next Monday, which is a great advantage over what other warehouses offer.

Dear WHISKY:
Why is it important to have samples quickly?

James:
The delays can cost a lot, especially for the small business. If you’re a huge company, it’s possible to plan for years in advance. In the case of making a big batch of single malt to put into 200 casks, one individual sample does not do much to it. However, if you’re a small independent bottler doing a single cask release, sampling and regauging to see whether it needs to be re-racked have to happen quickly to release their products as soon as possible.

Ensuring the quick access to casks

Controlling the quality of whisky

Dear WHISKY:
How do you measure the amount of liquid in the cask after it arrives?

James:
We called the measuring process a dip regauge. We take the bung at the top, and you put in a long stick, like a meter stick. As it has markings up, showing you the total depth of the cask from the bunghole.

Dear WHISKY:
How often do you check the condition of casks?

James:
When the casks arrive, we give a visual inspection to make sure there’s no damage like leaking. Also, every Friday, we do the leak walk, in which we walk around the warehouse to check every area to ensure there is no leak.

Dear WHISKY:
Is it the same for the old casks?

James:
We set up an automatic regauge system for old and rare casks on the special system called VAPOUR. The clients can also request the automatic regauge for specific time spans like three or six months to ensure it does not go down too much by the angel share. The system will remind the team members of the time for the job.

Dear WHISKY:
How do clients request regauge?

James:
You can just click a button on the system, and the notification will be delivered to me and the handset of the warehouse guys. They will remeasure what’s in the casks and update the system. From there, a client can look at our automatically generated graphs and see how the cask is losing its spirit.

Dear WHISKY:
What other information about casks can clients see?

James:
The system has a section called timeline, where the client can see everything that happened to their casks. They can see all the time and results of re-gauges, samples, and re-racks. It gives you a complete history of the casks from the time they arrived at the warehouse.

The condition of casks is managed with a state-of-the-art system, VAPOUR

Clients for Lowland Bond

Dear WHISKY:
Is your client mostly from independent whisky bottlers? 

James:
We have a variety of clients. We have distilleries with hundreds of thousands of casks and also small, newer distilleries. Also, we have some individual clients with several casks.

Dear WHISKY:
How do you decide which company to work with?

James:
Our criteria are not about the number of casks that the company has but rather about whether we want to work with the company. Therefore, we do background checks for prospective clients, ensure that they are good, and choose the people we work with.

The Cask Management System

How to locate the casks in the warehouse

Dear WHISKY:
How does your cask management system work?

James:
The computer system we use is VAPOUR, which was created by a team called Speyside Labs. It allows me to locate any casks in the warehouse by just clicking buttons. Also, our clients can log in to see where their own casks are stored in the warehouse by a 3D visualization

Dear WHISKY:
How popular is this system?

James:
Large-scale distilleries often use different systems, but that is very expensive. Thus, the VAPOUR system is good for smaller size companies, and I think a few warehouses are also utilizing it.

Dear WHISKY:
Before installing the system, how did you manage casks?

James:
Traditionally, the cask management was done either on an Excel spreadsheet or pen and paper. However, when you keep records manually, it can easily go wrong.

3D visualization on the VAPOUR system

How the system is used

Dear WHISKY:
How do you use the system to manage casks when they have arrived?

James:
Once we confirm the arrival of the casks, I’ll upload their information to the system and attach small credit card-sized tags with a barcode to the casks. After measuring the ABV (Alcohol by volume) and the amount of liquid in the cask, we will update the system so that the client knows when it arrived and what’s in their casks.

Dear WHISKY:
How does the system know where the casks are stored?

James:
On the back of every stow, there is a barcode that tells the VAPOUR system the location of the casks. When you log in as a client, you can click on the visualization and see exactly where your casks are stored in the warehouse.

Dear WHISKY:
What is the strength of using the system?

James:
The system’s backed up every hour. So, even if something catastrophic happens, each warehouse has its independent server, which gives us access to a backup. Moreover, it’s available on your browser, so I can access it through my phone even when I’m at home. It is a really handy system for all warehouse guys.

Dear WHISKY:
What made you want to install that system?

James:
If you live far away from where the casks are stored, it is difficult to know what is happening to casks. I want the owners of the casks to truly become a part of their history. Also, it comes from my background that I was one of those clients before. Therefore, I know that providing immediate answers can lead to better service.

An Excise Warehouse in the Whisky Industry

The place where whisky becomes Scotch whisky

Dear WHISKY:
What do you think about the role of warehouses in the whisky industry in Scotland?

James:
It’s a very important part of the process as it is where whisky spends most of its life. Therefore, it is not just a place to store the casks; it also has to be trusted to protect the value of Scotch whisky, a big part of Scotland.

Dear WHISKY:
What criteria must you comply with to be approved as Scotch whisky?

James:
The casks have to go through the spirit drink verification scheme. If you want to call something a single malt Scotch whisky, every part of the process needs to be approved by HMRC to make sure to protect what Scotch whisky is. By having the maturation approval, we are allowed to store and mature whisky casks.

Challenges and solutions

Dear WHISKY:
What are the challenges of whisky warehouses as an industry?

James:
I think one of the challenges is lead time, which is the time it takes for clients to receive something that they requested. To address that, we set our goals as the five-day turnaround on samples and regauges, as I said before. Another is the transparency. A lot of places don’t allow people to visit. It is mostly for security reasons. However, I want people to come and see their casks. So, as long as we get a request, we take the casks out of the racking so that they can touch them.

Dear WHISKY:
What kind of experience can cask owners have when they visit Lowland Bond?

James:
We’ve got a little tasting room and the blending lab, so they can assess the samples here. Also, they can watch the casks re-racked. This makes them feel part of the cask’s history and gives them more ownership and peace of mind.

The sampling room for tasting samples from casks

Future Prospects

Dear WHISKY:
What do you think is the next step for Lowland Bond?

James:
The immediate next step is getting our bottling line up and running. We need to have some testing before launching planned in January. We also want to be able to offer a full lifespan of a cask. For example, we can take a new make cask, let it stay for 15 years, and bottle it for the clients.

Dear WHISKY:
What is the long-term goal?

James:
We want to build more warehouses once this Lowland Bond runs smoothly. We might build a larger one close by. This is because every client has different needs, and we have to have more space to accommodate those individual requests. So, we’ll probably build some warehouses and grow the team. Hopefully, I can employ more locals and give back to the community in the end.

Message for the Dear WHISKY Readers

James:
We’d love to get in contact with everyone who is interested in cask storage. Feel free to reach out to me. For those who bought casks from Scotland, we try to remove some of their worries by giving you as much access to the casks as possible and being as involved as possible.
We’re just here to offer any advice. In my opinion, there’s no such thing as stupid questions. Whether you want to know people with the most knowledge of whisky or just want to buy a cask, we’re here to offer the full service.

At Last

Thank you for reading till the end!
In part 2 of the interview, James explained how the casks are stored carefully and securely in Lowland Bond. With its effort to be as open as possible, more owners of the casks will feel a part of cask history and enjoy the whole process of whisky-making. The role of an excise warehouse is crucial as whisky spends most of its life there, but it is not often in the spotlight. We hope this article helps both whisky enthusiasts and cask owners know the role of an excise warehouse and how the people working there carefully manage and mature the whisky.

Check out this article too!

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