Get Yourself ‘Barred’

The benefits of visiting a whisky bar

Finally. God pats me on the head and says “Good boy Scotty”. After weeks at sea and a virtual disappearance from the world of whisky, I finally land on my feet. Due to the mis-match of COVID quarantine rules for seafarers between Scotland and England, I find myself in London for 10 days while I wait out the time limit before I can return to the land of my birth.

Seeing as it has been some time since I’ve drunk any whisky, I was straight down to the hotel bar to observe the spirit offerings. Pretty poor for a whisky enthusiast, but as a bit of a peathead, it could have been a lot worse. Talisker, Ardbeg, Laphroaig 10, Lagavuilin 16, Dewars 12, Glenfiddich 12, Blue Label Johnny Walker, Chivas Regal 12 and a dribble of Macallan 18. Pretty uninspiring, so I knew I’d have to look further afield.

A whisky SOS was put out on Twitter and while I got a couple of replies and DM’s, the only meeting that came to pass was with Claire Vokins, a fellow member of the whisky twitterati and occasional blogger ( It was agreed to meet at Milroys of Soho, a whisky shop / bar in Greek Street, just in time before I nipped back up the road to Scotland.

Milroys Of Soho (

It was good to meet Claire, and we soon got into the whisky based topics that I knew we would. But it was hard to keep my eyes off the shelves behind the bar, wondering what whisky to start with after a warm-up beer. I’m cursing the fact that I didn’t take photos now, so you’ll have to make do with some I pinched from the web. Being in a whisky bar isn’t a new experience for me and I hadn’t planned to blog about it.

The set up of the bar is quite simple. World whiskies at the far end, moving to Islay at the opposite end. The cheaper drams are at the front with the more expensive ones to the rear. Much more expensive are the top shelf whiskies.

The Bar (

My last article touched on the concept of buying whisky that you may not drink. I’ve been collecting whisky since 2006 and I have to be honest there are some bottles in my collection I’ll never open. Partly as I did buy them with investment in mind, some because their value has risen beyond a point I’d feel comfortable opening, and some because I’ve discovered that I just like the look of the bottle but have no real desire to taste the dram over others that I want to drink more. This leads to the issue that I have bottles I will never know what they taste like.

If you are a newcomer to whisky, it is tempting to try as much as you can. While this is a laudable ideal, it can get very expensive when buying multiple bottles. It gets even more damning when you discover you don’t like the liquid within. This is why a whisky bar is an ideal solution for the enthusiast, collector and novice alike.

  • You get a bigger range to try from.
  • You aren’t committed to buying a whole bottle that you may not ever like.
  • Staff can give advice based on your taste preferences – this is a crucial difference between a whisky bar and a normal bar.
  • For the collector it can give the opportunity to try a dram in their collection without the need to open it.

The second dram. A secret Cragganmore.

These are the four positives, although there are caveats which some of my drinking companions last night found themselves falling foul of. Let me introduce you to Matt, Oliver and Harry. Oliver was a wine drinker and didn’t like whisky, so his two mates were trying to persuade him otherwise. Harry was an inquisitive newcomer to whisky and Matt – I’m not really sure where he was on a whisky journey and seemed a little squiffy, but all three were a good laugh in the end.

Matt had heard me and Claire talking about our drams, and started asking questions, so we started giving guidance. After Claire had left I continued to talk with them. Harry became more inquisitive and asked very pertinent questions over barrel types and how to taste whisky. By this point I was on a Linkwood 19 Darkness, a whisky that has been finished for three months in a PX Octave. This was a heavenly whisky, which gave me strong chocolate and coffee notes and was easily my whisky of the night, despite some pretty good contenders to choose from. However, Matt ignored my suggestion not to buy a round of Darkness for his mates and soon found out it was £21 a dram. Didn’t seem too happy about it but that was a rookie error. However he did enjoy it so all was good in the end.

Linkwood Darkness. Coffee and chocolate in abundance

This is where you have to be careful in a whisky bar. Without wanting to seem snobbish, there is no point going instantly for the expensive drams as a novice. You’ll maybe know that the whisky is good and you like it, but you’ll have few points of reference to know why it is good and how it ranks compared to other whiskies. For instance, I knew the Linkwood Darkness was good once I tasted it, but I can get almost as good an experience from drams that were a lot cheaper. We all know you can get decent drams under £40 a bottle, but knowledge takes time to acquire and requires you have many experiences to build up that mental data bank.

Once you are a more experienced hand and you know what you like, it becomes easier to discern what styles you like tasting and knowing what you would like to taste next. This is why a well stocked whisky bar is a cornucopia of delights for whisky geeks like me – the proverbial kid in a candy shop.

One thing to point out that in a bar like Milroys where you run a tab and pay before you leave, you have to keep an eye on the spending if you have little experience. For me, I never once asked the price of any drams I bought; I picked the drams I wanted to taste based on what I knew about the distilleries and being allowed to smell the bottle contents before I came to a decision. Specialist whisky bars often give tiny samples to allow you to try before you buy, which is another bonus. I had no idea of what I spent, and apart from the Linkwood I had no idea of what each dram cost until I got my bill. 5 drams and a beer came to £76. Bargain, especially considering the quality whisky I felt I had consumed as well as the company and ambience I had over the course of the evening.

Can you ever have a bad Glentauchers? Despite its young age, this one was fantastic with a strong natural runny honey note fresh from the hive

Another good point for the inexperienced whisky bar novice is to plan your drams. Try and stick to lower abv drinks to start with. Also, if you are planning to drink a heavily peated whisky, then try to have that towards the end of your night, or have a suitable palate cleanser to hand. The higher abv’s will possibly desensitise your taste buds and impair your enjoyment of something more delicate afterwards. Plus you are at a danger of getting intoxicated quicker. Consider a high abv whisky as a finisher whisky before you head home.

My final tip for whisky bar newbies is to be cautious in picking a dram that only has one or two drams left in it. Whisky bars will not gas their bottles to arrest oxidation and evaporation. The plus side is that stock in a specialist whisky bar will not be sitting long, so the effect should be minimal. However if buying a more expensive dram and it has a small amount in it, consider asking how long since that bottle has been opened. Under 6 months and everything should be good. After that, it’s anybody’s guess. Some whisky shelves have lighting facing the bottles that generate heat and will have an effect on the rate of oxidation and evaporation. Having said that, I’ve had bottles open 5 years and they tasted fine, but I’d bet they aren’t at the stated abv on the bottle. Being cautious can ensure you are actually getting what you paid for.

The bottle of Macallan 18 in the hotel that I mentioned earlier got finished during my stay in London. I bet the consumer didn’t get as good an experience as they would have had from the first pour. Let the lesson sink in as that would not have been a cheap dram.

For the record, the whiskies I tried were (in order):

  1. Fable Whisky Benrinnes 12 y.o / Chapter 4 (57.5% abv)
  2. Gordon & Macphails Single Malt Whisky – Speyside 21 y.o (40% abv). Turns out it was a Cragganmore.
  3. Whisky Barron Glentauchers 6 y.o (62.5% abv)
  4. Darkness Linkwood 19 (48.5% abv)
  5. Bruichladdich Port Charlotte OLC 1 (55.1% abv)

If you are wondering if I took notes on any of the whisky, then the answer is no. Whisky is meant to be enjoyed, not constantly analysed. I get much from more tasting in good company. Indeed, once Claire, Harry, Matt and Oliver had all left, I fell into conversation with Jason, one of the bar tenders at Milroys who was enjoying a day off drink. If you think that all we spoke about was whisky you’d be mistaken. It turns out we have a shared enjoyment of photography. Another geek moment.

There’s more to whisky than a simple alcoholic drink… if you haven’t experienced a specialist whisky bar, then you need to.

Thanks to everybody mentioned in this article. I had a great night and look forward to be able to return. Also thanks to the two on duty bar tenders who I didn’t catch the names of – one was on her first day I believe. Your service was exemplary.

Matt, thank you for your generosity of offering to buy me a drink. I only refused because I could have really taken the piss accidentally as I wasn’t asking the price of drams and didn’t want to take advantage. Maybe next time buddy.

Yours In Spirits


Index of tastings here

Index of articles here

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own unless otherwise credited.

Carry Ons At Cardhu

Taste Review #63 – Cardhu Distillery Edition

The distillery at Cardhu is off the beaten track but still within the heart of Speyside. Located slightly to the north of Tamdhu and Knockando, it is quite easy to miss, but it is one of those distilleries with a great back story of illicit distilling.

Cardhu Stills

Like many of the distilleries in the area, the distillery started as a farm based distillery named Cardow, tenancy of which was taken in 1811 by John Cumming and his wife Helen. The small hamelt beside it has changed from Cardow to Cardhu at some indeterminate point. It was Helen that was reportedly in charge of operations, making her the first female distillery ‘manager’. During the time of illicit operations, upon seeing the excise men approach, Helen would raise a red flag to warn of the presence of guagers, which made the farm an early warning station for the illegal stills up Glenlivet. The symbol of a woman waving a flag is now the emblem of the distillery and is proudly displayed on the bottle labels.

Not only did Helen set out alert others, she also had to ensure her own operation was disguised, hiding evidence of mashing by making flour and baking bread to explain the grinding down of cereal and the presence of yeast. And of course, the smell of bread would hide some of the smells. The guagers would be entertained at the Cummings homestead in an attempt to give other distillers time to hide their stills.

Given the problems of trying to hide their distillery, it is little wonder that Cardhu was one of the first Speyside distilleries to turn legit and obtain a licence after the 1823 Excise Act. By 1872, Helen’s daughter in law became the distillery manager and oversaw the rebuilding of the distillery in 1884. The old stills from Cardhu went to William Grant, who used them to build his Glenfiddich Distillery. By this time, Cardhu had built a great reputation and was in demand from blenders, athough it was availble as a single malt in London as early as 1888.

There was a change of management in 1893 when the distillery was sold to one of their long term customers – John Walker and Sons, but on the understanding that the Cummings would still run the distillery and have a seat on the Walker board. In 1899 the number of stills was doubled to 4, then in 1960 this was expanded to 6. Cardhu was now seen as the Highland base of Johnnie Walker, but in 1981 became the first attempt of single malt branding by DCL, the forerunner of Diageo. Incidently, there is another tie to the Cummings, as DCLs chairman from 1963-67 was Sir Rolnald Cumming – the great-grandson of John and Helen Cumming.

Cardhu was involved in some unfortunately negative publicity in the early 2000’s. Being in demand for both a single malt and blending in one of the world’s most popular whiskies put a great strain on supply. The solution arrived at by Diageo was toturn the Cardhu single malt brand into a ‘Pure Malt’ which is actually a vatted malt – a blend of whisky from multiple distilleries that had the same overall character as Cardhu. There was caused considerable confusion and controversy as it was not a single malt. For a brief period the distillery was renamed back to Cardow to differentiate between the single malt and the pure malt, but was changed back when the practice was discontinued. It had an effect on regulations however, and the term Pure Malt was banned and the term ‘Blended Malt’ created and continues in the Scotch Whisky Regulations in 2009.

Ghostly Going Ons?

The distillery is a very pleasant place to visit and is definitely worth a detour from the A95 if passing. I visited in October 2019 during my 4 days of whisky geekery. I was lucky, as by visiting early in the morning (10am!) and out of normal tourist season I managed to get a solo tour, guided by the lovely Jess who was a fountain of information. The distillery was silent when I visited, but this made no real difference to my visit, as I’ve been to one or two distilleries in the past, and in that 4 days I managed to visit 5 distilleries, one whisky bar and 2 whisky shops!

One of the interesting things that I picked up was the strange doll left on a shelf under one of the information boards. It turns out one of the operators believes the distillery is haunted and has left some items for the spirit to move around. See if you can see the doll somewhere in the distillery when you visit!

Now, supernatural spirits aren’t really my forte, so lets crack on to one more appropriate to this review – the disitllery exclusive dram.


Region – Speyside; AgeNAS; Strength 48%; Colour – Old Gold


Malty nutty, creamy soft sweetness of stewing apples, light citrus, wood


sour citrus initially, then onto a much smoother palate with the sweetness and creaminess of a light dairy chocolate. Some malty notes with a very delicate spice.


short to medium. Spiced malt ending in a subtle dryness

The dram


I have to say that this didn’t set my world on fire, but was decent enough. My initial sour citrus experience was probably responsible for this, but I enjoyed the development into the sweet and creamy palate. And with a sweet tooth, I have to say that I liked the chocolately flavour too. This one has been matured in three types of casks including Californian Red Wine casks giving a lovely colour to the dram.

Distillery Only Bottling

Myself with Jess my guide.

One of the problems with distillery only bottlings is that you don’t really know what you are getting when you buy and the small sample isn’t really adequate for telling how good a malt is. I bought a bottle anyway for around £80. To be brutally honest, I didn’t think this anything above any other Cardhu I’ve had in the past, and felt it was an insipid Diageo bottling that is just there to seperate the tourists and the foolish from their money. I suppose that I’ve been caught out. It might grow on me, but I think as this is a limited bottle, I might just stick it into storage and forget about it. Somebody who can’t visit the distillery or is a Cardhu fan may want to buy it off me at a later date.

Save your money and buy the standard Cardhu 12 year old at £35ish. Might only be 40% instead of 48% but is still a perfectly competent malt. If you want to treat yourself, why not try the Diageo Rare Malts 27 year old Cardhu from 1973. You’ll be breaking the bank to buy it at auction with prices being around the £200 mark or above, but if you see it in a whisky bar I can recommend it. I have tried it a long time ago and it made a positive impression on me about the distillery. I’m also lucky enough to have a bottle in storage. Maybe one day that is one bottle that might not be resold but drunk.

Slainte Mhath!


Index of tastings here

Index of articles here

This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

The C-Word

I don’t know what one is worse!

Whisky enthusiasts (and anybody else for that matter) cannot fail to miss the fact that the C-word is now on the lips of nearly everybody. Coronavirus is here, and not the other C word that is used regularly as a quite colourful yet descriptive noun in Scotland. We cannot escape it, so we have to look beyond the times that we currently find ourselves. The new plague has inspired me to actually say a few words on video posted on the Scotty’s Drams Facebook page. This is something that I vowed I would never do on account of having a face that can sour cream instantly, but more to the point I try to keep the blog as ‘lo-fi’ as possible, so I can still write and publish while at work, and so less is spent concentrating on internet geekery and more on the whisky and opinions.

Getting back on track, the whisky industry has not escaped Corona Virus at all. As is sensible, distillery visitor centres have closed, whisky festivals have been cancelled. Even one or two distilleries have completely shut down – Glenfarclas and Teeling being the only ones I definitely know to have ended production. This may not have much of an effect on supply at all, as warehouses are creaking of maturing spirit, and still most distilleries are still producing for now. There is not likely to be a shortage in the longterm, but will there be consequences in the further down the line if the best part of a year’s production is missing? Who knows?

Closed for now: Glenfarclas Distillery Visitor Centre. Production also temporarily ceased

We also have to think of the impact this will have on specialist Whisky Retailers, most of whom rely a good part on footfall into their shops, which has all disappeared. That is why I started my little video infomercials, as I felt this is a very important resource we have to keep. Yes, you can buy your whisky from Master of Malt, The Whisky Exchange or Amazon, but lets look at it this way – that isn’t personal service. It may be that some of the Whisky Shops use Amazon as a market place, but shop direct with them, so they get the maximum benefit.

Whisky Shops – physical shop closed, online shop alive and kicking

The bad thing about the Corona virus is that there is likely to be an economic slowdown across the world. Usually the first thing to go in an economic crisis are luxuries, and it could be argued that whisky is not a necessity but is indeed a luxury. Could this lead into a reduction in prices on the shelves? For instance, I remember not too long ago, you could pick up a GlenDronach 18 for under £80. Nowadays most places seem to have the price hitting off £100 in the space of less than a couple of years. I am having a wry smile to myself, as it was a dram that I used to evangelise to people about if asked for a recommendation. I doubt they bought it in enough numbers to increase demand. I’d wet myself laughing if I could be described as an industry ‘influencer’. I’m far more likely simply to be just under the influence……

It’s not just shops and distilleries that could be affected. Cooperages and other parts of the supply chain may suffer.

Carrying on from the thought of a global slowdown, this could mean mixed fortunes for us as consumers, but more to the good. I predict auction prices will be falling. I have seen certain bottles have definitely peaked and are on the way back down. Some of the 1993 Glenmorange cask finishes have seen a drop for instance. Mind you it could be that some people are also putting too high a reserve on it and they are not selling. I am getting more and more suspicious of the motives of some auctioneers to be honest, but that is an article I am writing with great caution, as the potential for libel and destroying of industry relationships is high.

Will auction prices be affected soon?

Moving on to the newer distilleries; tough times will definitely test the business model of many of these distilleries. Are they adequately insured against pandemic? If people do not have money to spend, then the demand falls. Those who have yet to produce spirit and are relying on also producing new make, gin or cask sales could especially be in trouble – they have nothing to sell to an international market as whisky has to be bottled in Scotland to be called Scottish, and if the domestic market collapses, there could be a cull of spirit producers in what seems to be a slowly saturating market place. Distilleries who don’t have a large global share or an effective overseas distribution may struggle, unless they are the type that have enough capital behind them to weather the storm.

Bear in mind my friends, I am only an amateur, and all of this is opinion of somebody who does not have a degree in economics, no whisky industry background and is certainly not a rocket scientist. However, the basic facts are there – the size of a market the industry has to sell to is finite. You can only sell so much, which becomes difficult if tastes change (imagine only filling sherry casks to find 8 years later public taste has swung in favour of bourbon cask whisky), or if people have no money.

Not just Scotland. Teeling distillery in Dublin also shut down.

Whatever happens in the end, we have to remain positive in all circumstances. What may come to pass is anybodies guess and it is completely out of our hands. Let me advise you that the best thing you can do now is keep indoors as much as possible. Take time to enjoy the things you couldn’t before when things like work got in the way. If you are one of the ones that are providing essential services to keep the country going, I salute you – especially those on the front lines in the health services world wide, often working under difficult conditions. At the other side may we all be able to raise a glass to celebrate that we have survived. The whisky industry will too, but in what shape it will be is yet to be seen.

Lastly, while we think of staying inside to dodge the Corona Virus, one thing that went through my head now I’ve shown my face on screen (1400+ views) that if we are to celebrate together getting through these hard times, how would people feel about a Scotty’s Drams meet at some point in the quiet season next year? We need to look forward to something, and this could just be the ticket. Let me think on it. Perhaps I’ll do a poll later on…

Keep safe – Yours in Spirits


Index of tastings here

Index of articles here

This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

Auction Gavel – Shutterstock

All other photos – Authors own

The Cathedral of the Cask

It is said that a mistake is only a mistake when you at least learn from it. When you continue to make that mistake, that is at the very least bad planning. It’s a Friday forenoon as I am writing this, so I suppose I really should know better. I am still going to call this a success as I finished the article on Friday as well, however only with 80 minutes to spare.

This week has seen a small burst of whisky activity, in which I have visited a distillery and cooperage, and it is the cooperage that is going to form the basis of this weekends article. I was wanting to do a bit of research into cask construction to give me a bit of a background for an article I am writing for something else and my visit to the Speyside Cooperage in Craigellachie did not disappoint.

When we think of whisky, the focus is always on the distillery and the casks are almost a foregone conclusion. Yet these should not be forgotten as they play a massive part in the formation of our dram in creating the colour and developing the taste from the distillate. Even then, all we think of is rows of casks sitting in a warehouse, but we don’t really think of what goes into making them. I can tell you now that it is more than you think and you would be surprised at actually how much. What’s even more surprising is how quickly it all happens.

The Speyside Cooperage sits just outside the village of Craigellachie, on the A941 between Dufftown and Craigellachie. It is a business that I pass regularly, but most often from the rear of the site, on the short cut between the A941 and the A95 to Aberlour and home. When passing the pyramids of casks (known as a Stow and is pronounced to rhyme with Now) I’ve always wondered how they process so many casks. On a snowy Monday afternoon I decided to pay a visit to the Cooperage.

Casks as far as the eye can see. I’m usually driving past at the other end of the yard on the way home. It was time to visit.

I chose the VIP tour, which allows access to the shop floor and the yard. This allows you to get as close as safely possible. The good thing about the VIP tours, especially out of season is the chances of getting a one on one tour is extremely high. While only mad dogs and Englishmen are said to go out in the midday sun, it is only perhaps the true whisky geek attired in appropriate amounts of Gore-Tex that will venture into Speyside to research barrels during a winter storm. Thus so it was the case that I got a solo tour with Rowan.

The tour starts with a very informative and well made video that is refreshingly full of easy to understand information and devoid of any corporate promotion, something that I note is more and more creeping into any whisky based tour. The video describes the type of wood used, how it is cut, and shows a basic overview into how a cask is made. After the video which lasts for approximately 15 minutes, you are then taken up the stairs to the viewing gallery where you can see most of the shop floor. Here you see the coopers in process repairing casks and what is instantly apparent is the speed that they work at. Because the coopers are paid at a piece-rate, it is in their best interests to have a high turnover of casks.

The shop floor (Tripadvisor / BartV495)

What is not appreciated is that the coopers are assisted by a a team known as the Labour Squad. These are the workers that assist the coopers by ensuring that there are casks ready to be worked on, by keeping the area around the benches clean, by making sure that they have supplies to repair casks. There are also apprentices at the far benches who serve their time over 4 years. There is quite a bit of interest when an apprenticeship comes up; apparently there were about 100 people applying for just one position.

The middle section in the photo above is where casks that are not repairable are put, and parts used from them to fix other casks. On the day that I visited, the workshop were repairing former wine casks, therefore they would all be similar in shape and height, but not every stave will fit every cask. You can see two casks in the middle section have their bands off and have some staves missing – these will be taken to repair other casks.

The cooperage can source or make a cask to order. The predominant wood in use is American Oak. This is for a couple of reasons. Firstly it is quite a dense oak, and the wood does not interact quite so strongly with the distillate as much. It also grows tall and straight with few knots, which means it is a lot easier to get a consistent wood quality that is less likely to split or leak. European oak tends to be a bit more porous. A typical American Oak will yield enough oak to manufacture 3 barrels. At the time I visited, no new whisky casks were being made and it was old wine casks that were being used. I never did find out what oak these were made of, but if it was European, it is most likely to be French Oak.

To ensure that the liquid stays in the cask, the staves are cut in what is called quarters. This means the stave is cut across the grain, and will stop the liquid in the cask leaking out.

From ‘Coopers and Coopering’ – Ken Kilby

So what happens when a cask comes in for repair?

The cooper will take the cask to his station, and give it a thorough examination. They are looking for cracks and splits in the wood or signs of other damage, such as a damaged metal band or hoop. There are usually 6 hoops in a cask – the top one is the chime, the 2nd one down one is the quarter and the one closest to the middle is known as the Bulge. This is repeated for the other end. The cooper will use a wire brush to knock off any debris and weathering on the outside to get a good look at the wood. If it requires repair, then the three hoops at one end are removed and the barrel inverted. Then he will slacken the top hoop and remove the other two, so he can open up the cask to remove the damaged staves.

Cask being reassembled. Two staves have been replaced. See the reeds just behind the cask for sealing the ends.

Once the staves are repaired, the cask is closed up, the bulge hoops are put back into position to start closing up the cask. The remaining hoops are placed on, but not into the final position. The cask ends are then put into position, and sealed around the edge with dried water reeds.

Depending on client requirements, if the barrel requires re-charring, the old char is removed and the charring process takes place once more. There are differing levels of char, which effectively blisters the wood to charcoal. This has a few uses – firstly it increases the surface area of the wood, to allow the spirit to interact more with the cask. The charcoal will also be a crude filter, and will help neutralise some of the less pleasant parts of the the distillate. It will also have an effect on the colour, taste and aroma of the final whisky.

Charring inside a cask at a Speyside Distillery

At the time of my visit, the coopers were working on old wine barrels, and this could be clearly seen by the staining on the insides of the casks. The casks were being charred at around 400C for about 100 seconds. The cooperage customer will ask for a particular charr level, and Rowan my guide informed me it is getting more usual to see higher temperatures for shorter times. Once the charr is complete, the cask is then subjected to jets of steam – this is to put some moisture back in the wood. The cask ends are charred separately in a facility outside, and are then returned to the cooper to make up a cask once more.

Charring in progress

It is thinking about the cask ends that I actually discovered something that I did not already know. Of course, the casks have no nails or glue holding them together, but I often wondered about how the cask ends are jointed together and this is where today continued to be a school day. Whisky casks generally have dowels holding them together. Several pieces of wood are dowelled each other then pressed together. Once pressed, the cask is then put on a lathe style machine to turn the cask end into a circular shape with the profile to enable it to seal correctly.

Cooper away to fit the casks end. Note the two replaced staves.

Wine casks are generally different, and what I saw was that the pieces of wood that form the end are pressed together using a tongue and groove effect. This makes the insertion of the cask end a little bit more tricky, but the coopers I watched assemble casks did it with ease.

Tongue and Groove of cask end section. Note how far the red wine has penetrated.

The assembled cask is then passed onto one of the labour team who use a machine to press on the two hoops at either end. This ensures a tight seal and that the ring is in precisely the correct position. Once this is done, all that remains is for the cask to be seal checked, which is done by putting some water into the cask and pressurised with air. Should a leak be detected, the cooper responsible has to repair the cask.

Should the cask pass, it is either put into a stow for storage, or it is transported immediately to the client. And here is where I learnt something new. For years, I have heard in distilleries that the casks are shipped broken down, however Rowan tells me that this is not necessarily true. It was calculated that it was more expensive to pay for a cooper to break down the cask in the US or Spain (Most casks used in Scotch whisky comes from the bourbon or sherry industries) then have them rebuild the cask in Scotland. So in effect, the cooperage is actually shipping air, as usually nothing is in the cask when it is shipped.

Some of the many stows of casks

There is a large collection of different casks on site. Everything from firkins (this was what the apprentices were working on) Quarter Casks, Barrels, Hogsheads, Port Pipes, Sherry Butts and Puncheons were present. In total there is around 200,000 casks on site at any one time. Wondering around the yard, the stows of barrels towered above us like a cathedral of casks. I had to wonder how much effort would be needed to knock the securing chocks out from the bottom and then to run from the tumbling casks. Thankfully that is not my job but images of Wylie Coyote getting buried in a in barrels after chasing Road Runner came to mind.

One question I had was how do they tell what each cask has held before or how many times it was used? The reason I asked was that each client has their own stows, yet the cask types (not sizes) were mixed. I thought it was something to do with the colour of the paint on the cask end, but the secret was a lot more mundane than that – it was usual to have the information on the paperwork when the cask arrived, and most casks now have a bar code or an alternative identifying mark.

1988 Jura. Cask a minimum of 32 years old.

I’ve got quite a lot of experience with cask ends, as I have been collecting these to use as decorative pieces for a local hotel bar, but nowadays these decorative cask ends are coming to an end in the larger distilleries at least. Many of them simply have a bar code on them. The distilleries are reluctant to allow these to be sold now, and many insist on the ends being painted over. Personally I think that this is a shame, as these marks tell a lot about the history of the cask. Remember that the wood it is made of is around 100 years old, then the cask itself can be as old as 40 – 60 years. I think it is nice to see all the dates that tell of whisky now probably long drunk.

At the end of the tour, we returned to the gallery where I am told that one of the coopers present is actually a world record holder. Davey Mckenzie had put a 190 litre barrel together in 3 minutes three seconds. Indeed, watching the guys repairing the wine casks, these were often repaired in around 10-15 minutes a piece, depending on how much work is needing done. It was now my turn to assemble a small cask, but I’m not going to embarrass myself only to reveal I didn’t manage – it really is a skill!

Finally it was time to finish the tour. It really was a great experience, and I think I spent 2 hours there, but it seemed a lot more. This was because you can get a lot of information and plenty of opportunity to ask questions in a short space of time. At the end of the tour, you get a tea or coffee, some shortbread, plus a bar towel and engraved Glencairn glass with the Cooperage logo. Oh, and a small nip of their own mystery single malt whisky bottled from a local distillery. I did tell my guide that I thought I knew what it was judging by the smell, but it is a secret. However, when I compared it to a sample of the whisky I thought it was, it was a very good match.

Don’t worry – I won’t tell.

I’d like to thank Rowan for her great tour. Whisky Geek Scotty was definitely on his best behaviour and didn’t get carried away. I’d also like to thank Andrew Russell, the General Manager of the Cooperage who took his time to answer a couple of questions I had to e-mail him in the writing of this blog post.

I can thoroughly recommend a visit to this cooperage, as it is one of the very few cooperages where you can see the cask being assembled from beginning to end. You can find out more by phoning the visitor centre on 01340 871108 or visiting

Yours in Spirits


Index of tastings here

Index of articles here

This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

View from Gallery – Tripadvisor / BartV495

All Other Photos – Author’s own

From Buckie To Bowmore

Visit Report – Bon Accord Bar, Glasgow.

(And we aren’t talking about the fishing port in North East Scotland!)

A recent trip to Glasgow left a massive disappointment. Two whisky shops and yet no whisky purchased, bringing the total number of consecutive whisky shops visited with no purchase of spirit to 4.

The Bon Accord Bar

Feeling less than manly*, I decided to pay a visit to the Bon Accord, on North Street in Glasgow. This is where the disappointment came to an end. I’ve a great mental image to describe what walking into the Bon Accord is like. Readers of a certain vintage will get this immediately, but not too many decades ago, you could go into a grocers shop with the big shelves behind a large counter, and there on the shelves would be big jars of sweeties** to be put into a quarter pound bag (or bigger if you had more pocket money). Well, the gantry in the Bon Accord reminded me of this. I was metaphorically that kid in a sweetie shop.

The bar and gantry

Where to begin? Let’s start by saying there were so many whiskies on the gantry, bottles two deep on the shelves, it would be impossible to ask for something. They have a whisky menu, but impressively, it is displayed on an Apple iPad app. If you want to browse their collection before you even get to the bar, even from the comfort of your own home, you can plan what dram you fancy, or even plan a flight so you know what sort of budget you are aiming for.

The whisky menu via app

I only popped in for one dram and ended up staying for 2, but also had a lunch special of soup plus roast beef in a Yorkshire pudding, which was £6 for the two courses. The two cost nearly 10 times that amount at £27 and £28 respectively.

The whiskies I chose were a 23 year old Kininvie (batch 3) and SMWS 41.101, which is a Dailuaine 28 year old. That was a fantastic dram, and I have done a separate taste review on each one.

Although these were expensive drinks, don’t panic. There are normally priced whiskies that may still be unusual to find in the average bar. Or, there are more expensive ones should you want to brandish your wallet about with masses of disposable income. The most expensive was the 72 year old Macallan at £5000 a nip, followed closely by the 70 year old Glenlivet at £900. Even a Macallan Easter Elchies Black 2018 was £100 a nip.

The staff showing off the premium bottles

The other thing that was great was the staff. Very friendly and knowledgable about whisky. And, unsurprisingly in Glasgow, full of friendly patter. Somebody in the staff has a wonderful sense of humour as I had spotted a bottle of Buckfast on the top level of the gantry beside boxes for White Bowmore, Black Bowmore and Black Bowmore 1964.

Goes to show the Bon Accord is for everybody with all budgets.

Spot the odd one out.

The Bon Accord is at 153 North Street, Glasgow within the Charing Cross area of the city. You can find their app on the Apple App Store by searching for Bon Accord. They also have a website at

*there was no need to feel like this. I’d just picked up auction winnings from SWA. A drinking bottle of Glenmorangie Signet nonetheless.

**sweeties are called candies in the US.

Slainte Mhath!

This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider clicking here to visit my Facebook page or by liking and sharing this article by clicking on icons below.

If you prefer not to use Facebook, follow the WordPress blog by clicking on the link below which will deliver any blog posts to your inbox, including reviews, distillery visits, whisky news and advice.

Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit by clicking on the link.

photo credits

Whisky App – Bon Accord Bar / Fair Use

other photos – authors own.