Cooperage Manager

A Cooperage Manager is responsible for overseeing the production of barrels used in the aging process of scotch whisky. This includes leading, managing and developing cooperage staff, ensuring production targets are met, maintaining quality standards, and managing all aspects of wood management and cask repair operations whilst ensuring compliance with all relevant legislation.

Role Description

Distillery coopers are responsible for repairs and for “rejuvenating” (or reseasoning) of barrel heads and staves. And, as 65% of flavour in whisky comes from the wood, it’s a key role in the production of whisky.

Main duties and responsibilities

Key responsibilities of a Cooperage Manager include:

  1. Overseeing the entire production process, from selecting the wood to assembling and sealing the barrels. This includes managing a team of skilled workers, scheduling daily and weekly production activities, ensuring production targets are met, and maintaining high-quality standards.
  2. Monitor and record downtime for all equipment, investigate equipment and system failures, conduct root cause analysis, implement continuous improvement solutions to support a drive for improved operating costs and efficient resource management, and specify needed maintenance through the work order process. Understand and provide guidance to operators and maintenance technicians on equipment troubleshooting and failures.
  3. Ensure all barrels meet quality standards, including selecting high-quality wood, monitoring the drying process, and ensuring barrels are properly sealed to prevent leakage. Lead all aspects of the cooperage production process to ensure the site provides the highest quality barrel for customers. Foster a work environment that is quality conscience.
  4. Ensure the cask repair and movement’s processes are compliant with health & safety, environmental and legislative regulatory bodies within the cooperage, including providing proper protective equipment and training for staff. Maintain a safe work environment and promote accident prevention by eliminating potential hazards and driving root cause analysis completion and zero loss mindset.
  5. Actively lead activities around the raw material and kiln operations to ensure stave and heading inventories are properly stored and prepared through the drying operations.
  6. Manage the inventory of barrels and ensuring that there is always enough supply to meet production needs.
  7. Preparation and translation of operational reports to provide real-time updates on plant and team performance, including individual performance, demonstrating compliance with the objectives and regulatory requirements. Manage and participate in budget development, budget justifications and implement cost savings projects. Actively search out ways to reduce site spending as well as drive down overall barrel cost.
  8. Lead the Diversity & Inclusion policies within the production team to promote an inclusive work environment.
  9. Collaborate with other departments, such as the distillery and warehouse, to ensure that barrels are produced and delivered in a timely manner.
  10. Lead and support continuous improvement practices to drive efficiency improvements, process improvements, employee utilisation, and ensure ownership and knowledge transfer is effective post project implementation. Implement best practice processes and procedures maximising effectiveness and efficiency, ensuring a strong interface with all key relationship teams. Continuously look for ways to improve production processes, quality, and efficiency. Lead and support improvement projects utilising continuous improvement techniques and ensure ownership and knowledge transfer is effective post project implementation.

Skills and experience

Typically you will be required to have a Bachelor's Degree in Engineering, Business, Production or related area and 4 years people leadership in a manufacturing environment OR 7 years of people leadership experience in a manufacturing environment.

In addition you will need to demonstrate excellent written & verbal communication skills, word processing, database, presentation computer applications, and the ability to prepare and present finished reports, project updates.

You will have a demonstrated ability to work with employees at all levels of an organization and in both union and non-union environments. In addition, you will:

  • Have a demonstrable track record as a proven leader who can set objectives, performance manage a team and develop individuals to achieve their full potential.
  • Exhibit knowledge and experience in all relevant areas of H & S legislation, HMR&C compliance and the application of warehousing & logistics best practice initiatives.
  • Have a deep understanding and knowledge of coopering best practises.
  • Experienced at working in a continuous improvement culture.
  • A thorough understanding of the types of wood used for barrel production and the processes involved in assembling and sealing barrels.
  • Effective leadership skills with the ability to manage a team of skilled workers and collaborate with other departments.
  • Strong problem-solving skills with the ability to quickly identify and solve problems that arise during production.
  • Effective communication skills with staff, other departments, and management.
  • A thorough understanding of health and safety regulations and be able to ensure compliance within the cooperage.
Did you know?
  • In Scotland, there are around 300 skilled coopers, each trained to use special hand-crafted tools. Many cooperages are standalone businesses, however, four distilleries in Scotland have their cooperage onsite. Loch Lomond is one of the four.
  • In Scotland, whisky barrels are traditionally made from European oak, as opposed to American oak, which is more commonly used in the United States.
  • The type of wood used to make whisky barrels in the UK is regulated by law. Only certain types of oak can be used, and the wood must be sourced from sustainable forests.
  • The use of oak barrels in the UK can be traced back to the ancient Celts, who used oak barrels to transport goods and store food and drink.
  • The length of time that whisky must be aged in a barrel in order to be called "Scotch" is also regulated by law. Scotch whisky must be aged for a minimum of three years, although many Scotch whiskies are aged for much longer.

If you are interested in becoming a cooperage manager, there are several resources you can explore to learn more about the art and craft of cooperage:

  1. The Institute of Brewing and Distilling (IBD) offers a Diploma in Distilling, which includes a module on cooperage. This program is designed to provide a comprehensive education in the science and technology of distilling, including the production of barrels and casks.
  2. The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) offers a range of qualifications in cooperage, including the National Certificate in Cooperage. This program is designed to provide students with a solid grounding in the skills and knowledge required to work in the cooperage industry.
  3. The Scottish Cooperage Association is a professional organization that represents the interests of the cooperage industry in Scotland. The association provides support and resources to cooperages and cooperage managers, including training and development opportunities.
  4. The Whisky Barrel Making School, located in the Speyside region of Scotland, offers a range of courses and workshops on barrel making and cooperage. These courses are designed for individuals who are interested in learning the craft of cooperage and may be a good starting point for aspiring cooperage managers.
  5. The cooperage industry has a rich history and tradition, and there are many books and articles available on the subject. Some recommended books on the subject include "The Cooper's Craft" by Kenneth Kilby, "The Art of Coopering" by John Neufeld, and "The Whisky Barrel" by David Hope.
  6. In addition to formal education and training programs, it may be helpful to seek out apprenticeships or internships with established cooperages or whisky distilleries. This can provide valuable hands-on experience and help you to develop your skills and knowledge in the field.
Related Case Studies

The Scotch Whisky Association

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