Warehousing – Seven Secrets of the stows

26th November 2021 / by Hannah Thaxter

All the whisky Bruichladdich makes, and has ever made, is stored for its entire maturation at Bruichladdich.

Hannah spent a day in the warehouses seeing what happens between spirit coming off the still and going down to the Bottling Hall at the distillery. Here she shares seven secrets from her access to the world of maturing, vatting and cask culture.

1. It's all in the timing

Casks are stored bung upwards (less chance of leaking) but how do you get them all to line up along the racks or skeeds bung up without having to manipulate them all into place?

They work out what position the first one needs to be in, to ensure it lands bung up after it’s rolled down the stow. Casks of the same type will have the same girth, so once the first one is sorted, the boys use the end of the cask as a clock face to set the subsequent ones.

The second cask needs the bung set 20 mins later, the next at 20 mins after that. For example, if the first started with the bung at 12 oclock, the next should be at 20 past, then 20 to etc.  If the first barrel bung lands at 10 past then its fastby 10 mins. So youd send the second at 10 past rather than 20 past, half past instead of 20 to, and so on, to make the correction. Simple! 



2. The weigh-in

If spirit or whisky is all going into the same size and type of casks, they use a method called average contents recording. It’s approved by HMRC; every drop of “bulk spirit” has to be accounted for.

The first three casks are weighed empty at a weigh station in warehouse 12. The weight is chalked on the side. Then they’re weighed again after filling. This is checked against the “dip” (the depth of liquid) in the finely calibrated warehouse tank before and after filling, divided by the number of casks filled, and against the figures recorded from a flow meter on the pump. The dips, the meter, and the weights of the first three casks should all align to make sure the movement of bulk is accurately recorded.



3. Racking up

The warmer the warehouse, the quicker the spirit will mature. Generally the higher up in the stow or racking the cask is the warmer it will be. The Port Charlotte Dunnage warehouses are so low upstairs they only hold two layers of casks, there’s no room for a forklift so they have to be rolled up two old wooden ramps – it’s very hands on.

In larger racked warehouses, like the new complex at Coultorsay, a special machine lifts the casks up and drops them onto the racks but a warehouseman has to be up there walking alongside the racks to ensure they are in the right position. 

4. Rock and roll

On the rare occasions that the team need to get a full cask up onto its end, for repairs, it’s a two man job. They work together to rock the cask from side to side, then catch the momentuum to take it forward past the point it would rock back, and upend the cask.

When they’re stowing, if a cask won’t roll nicely into place with its bung up, the boys take it for a “walk” around the warehouse floor to reposition it. They spin it under their hands to get the bung exactly where they need it. Saves them having to “cut it up” (manually manipulating it) when it is already in position on the row.

5. Band of gold

A ring of amber appears when you add water to cask-strength whisky. You slowly and carefully add the water down the side of the glass of whisky, which makes the oils split from the solution and float on the surface. The water goes to the bottom – this creates a “band of gold” which is the oils on top. Hold it to the light to watch it in action.


6. "Blood tubs"

Blood tubs are really small casks, so-called because it was the size they used to use to catch the blood from a slaughtered animal. None used in whisky have actually seen that kind of use! Now they are rare in the warehouses and most are privately owned. You can see them behind John on the top stows here. 


7. Lining up

The bung on the side of the cask, the rivets from the hoops and the label on the cask head (cask end) all line up. So no matter which way the cask is positioned, you can tell where the bung is by feeling around the end for the rivets without bending down to see.

 Read a fuller account of Hannah’s day here 


Bruichladdich Distillery
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