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A day in the life of a cooper at The Balvenie Distillery

A day in the life of a cooper at The Balvenie Distillery

20 barrels a day? Nae bother! We had the pleasure of chatting to Barry, a cooper at The Balvenie Distillery, about what a typical day in his job involves, from repairing casks to helping the apprentices.

 I left school in 1989, and I started off on a joiner apprenticeship but got no work. I knew there was a cooperage in the town, so I went down there and started the day after!

Here at The Balvenie Distillery, we’ve got 10 coopers and 5 apprentices. I’m from Keith, 10 miles up the road, and there’s two cooperages there with apprenticeships going. Plus, there’s Speyside Cooperage up the road, they've got apprentices as well. So, there’s plenty of work!

A typical day is just repairing casks. Getting rid of all the broken staves, all the defects. We take them out, put in a new stave. Broken ends are just the same, just pop them out, put in new ones. Today we’re making ends, doing a bit with the apprentices, so we’ll be able to make new dumps later in the day. 

The boys will do about 20 ERU* (Equivalent Ratio Unit). So, it's like 20-barrel equivalent. A butt, we get a bit more ERU for them, as we do a barrel.

We don’t often do port pipes. We don’t often repair them, they’re hopefully just for a finish, so we take them in, there's usually a few broken staves in them but if they’re nae bad, we just let them go to get filled. It's maybe just three months, to be a finish on it.


* Equivalent Ratio Unit (ERU) is how cooperages typically work out the time and cost required to repair casks. 

If 1x Barrel = 1x Unit (1 ERU), 40 gallons = 20 per day

then 1 x Dump Hogshead = 1.25 ERU, 55 gallons = 16 per day

and 1 x Butt =  2.5 ERU,  110 gallons = 8 per day

A cooper would be budgeted, for example, to do a minimum of 2.5 ERU's per hour or 20 ERU's per day. 

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