Working dogs can detect flaws in whiskey and wine barrels

Those who have spent time in whiskey distilleries in the past may have encountered a furry friend or two – diligent distillery cats circling for rodents drawn to barley. While the role of these mousers may have evolved over the years, some have achieved fame beyond their lifetime through the naming rights of a dedicated bottling (notably Glenturret’s Towser Cask Whisky, which commemorated a Guinness World Record-holding cat that caught 28,899 mice during its 24 years at the distillery).

Now, an 18-month-old pup named Rocco is giving whiskey a new twist: he’s helping associate global (and human) brand manager Chris Wooff spot flaws at Grant’s Whiskey distillery in Girvan, Scotland. “A dog’s sense of smell like Rocco is 40 times stronger than a human’s, and we’ve specially selected and trained Rocco to pick up the scent of anything that goes wrong as the whiskey is maturing,” Wooff told the Daily Record. “Mechanical ‘noses’ are widely used in the wine industry, but we wanted to maintain the tradition of our handcrafted skills by using a dog’s natural super-smell in our quality control process.”

According to trainer Stuart Phillips of BWY Canine Training in Wales, the process took more than eight months using barrel samples and other methods, and Rocco learned the ropes alongside another Cocker Spaniel. , Bran, for the secret project. “If Rocco identifies any casks, Rocco’s new manager will notify the cooperage staff, who may set the casks aside and not be used in the whiskey-making process,” reads the BWY website. “Exactly what Rocco and Bran were trained to sniff out remains confidential, but whiskey drinkers can rest assured that the dogs help identify imperfections in wooden casks, ensuring that the quality of the whiskey produced remains at the exceptionally high standard expected by the whiskey maker and the consumers who buy bottles of whiskey.

Both dogs were trained to deal with the elements of a busy distillery, including “loud noises, people working and machinery running, walking on different and difficult floor surfaces”, and received training research and indication in preparation, according to Business Daily.

The use of dogs to detect imperfections in barrels has already been tried. In 2019, TN Coopers, a cooperage in Chile, embarked a team of dogs to track down TCA, TBA and other compounds that could contaminate the wood of wine barrels. “The underlying principle is that dogs have a much wider olfactory threshold than humans, and therefore can detect very small concentrations of specific compounds by their sense of smell alone,” Guillermo Calderón, marketing director for TN Coopers, told Wine Spectator.

Although the dogs have a serious job, they also seem to lighten the mood considerably with their fuzzy presence. Wine Spectator recently published its issue dedicated to winery dogs who bring wagging tails and cheerful spirits to winemakers and visitors across California.

Rocco, who has his own kennel at the distillery and is considered a member of the team. “The atmosphere is building wherever Rocco works, and people can’t help but smile in his presence,” Lianne Noble, Grant’s team leader in charge of Rocco’s care, told The Daily Record. “He’s a working dog rather than a workplace pet, so we’ve put guidelines in place to make sure he’s not disturbed when he takes a break between shifts. , but the boost in morale has been a joy to see.”

Bette C. Alvarado