A Canine Nose for Casks

There’s a furry new addition to the distillery of Scotland’s oldest family-run whisky maker – and he’s already busy ‘nosing’ around the casks! Meet Rocco the cocker spaniel, Grant’s latest employee.

Two-year old Rocco has been specially trained by Stuart Philips

He could well be Grant’s most ‘pawfect’ employee of the month, so keen is his nose. Scottish blended whisky Grant’s is a global pioneer in the whisky world, but also believes in keeping certain traditions and techniques alive when it comes to perfecting this spirit. And now, its latest employee, Rocco, a hardworking cocker spaniel, has joined the ranks even as he’s assigned the delicate task of ‘nosing’ the wooden casks made at the distillery by the highly skilled coopers. We speak to Rocco’s boss, Chris Wooff, Associate Global Brand Director, Grant’s, at William Grant and Sons, about working with the charming canine and his daily duties at the distillery.

When did Rocco come into your life at the Cooperage? Where did he come from?

When Rocco was a puppy, he lived with a family until he was nine months old. They named him but realized soon after that he would be better suited to a working life. So they got in touch with Stuart Philips, who they knew had a great reputation for looking after and training these types of dogs. Rocco is now two years old.

Chris Wooff

What makes his particular breed good at his work?

The gundog breeds, which include spaniels, retrievers, pointers and setters among others, all make fantastic search dogs. Springer spaniels and cocker spaniels are commonly employed for very important roles like explosive detection and drug detection. Rocco is a working cocker spaniel from some of the best gundog blood lines in the UK.

Does he work exclusively for the Grant's whisky cooperage?

Yes, Rocco works exclusively for Grant’s whisky cooperage, and we are excited to have him on our team!

Rocco's daily tasks include sniffing casks to ensure they are perfectly in order

What exactly does he do in terms of his work – at what point does he sniff the barrels and what exactly is he looking for?

Rocco is a very hardworking member of the Grant’s team. Rocco’s job is to sniff out the quality of the casks at the cooperage, where wooden barrels are made by highly skilled craftsmen who use traditional techniques to prepare the barrels that protect and help perfect Grant’s Whisky for years. When he’s done checking out the quality of the wood in the cooperage, Rocco noses around the rest of the distillery to make sure that everything is going to plan.

Why is Rocco's 'nose' keener than humans in this regard – and why is he essential at Grant's? (How does he enhance the whisky making process?)

Wood is a natural material, and the distilling of whisky is an organic process, so our job for Grant’s Whisky is to make sure that everything is perfect as the whisky ages in the oak casks. The sense of smell of a dog 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’s not quite right as the whisky matures.

Rocco is a great addition to the Grant’s team and while he won’t change how we approach the process of cask quality; his keen sense of smell and speed of nosing means we are hoping he will improve our ability to detect any casks that are not up to our standards.

How did Rocco train for his role and how do you continue to 'refresh' his training?

Before taking up his new role at Grant’s, Rocco went through six months of intensive training with dog training expert Stuart Philips in Pembrokeshire, Wales, to hone his natural skills. Trainer Stuart used a number of cask samples from the Grant’s distillery to build a training ground for Rocco.

His training consisted of environmental and socialization training in the early stages. During the environmental training phase, Rocco was trained to be around loud noises, people working and machinery operating, walking on different and difficult floor surfaces and be in environments to prepare him for work in a busy and sometimes dangerous work place. Then, Rocco took part in search training, indication training and was imprinted on the target odor which he is now trained to locate within the Cooperage / Distillery. Rocco now regularly takes part in odor identification tests to ensure that he is performing at the top of his game for his role.

Since he can't taste the whisky – do you engage him in sniffing various whiskies?

When he’s done checking out the quality of the wood in the cooperage, Rocco noses around the rest of the distillery to make sure that everything is going to plan. If Rocco picks up the scent of anything that needs attention, it gets reported to me. He pays great attention to detail, and nothing escapes his nose!

Rocco the cocker spaniel, at Grant's distillery in Scotland

Please could you tell me what is a typical day for Rocco at the distillery?

This is all new to us at the distillery and we need to learn how to work together to get the best out of Rocco and to make sure he is happy at his work. We anticipate he will spend a few hours each day patrolling the cask compound nosing the empty casks and also helping with the inspection of new casks arriving at the cooperage.

Could you tell us about Grant's Distinction and Grant's Triple Wood – what are their tasting notes, and what kind of food do they best pair with?

Grant’s Distinction is a blended Scotch whisky that has been hand-picked for smoothness to appeal to a new generation of Scotch whisky drinkers. Grant’s Distinction has been designed for mixing and has a raisin cake richness that gives it a strong character to cut through any mixer. It is exclusively available in India and is priced at INR 2,500 in Mumbai for 750 ml.

Grant’s Triple Wood is matured in three different types of woods: Virgin Oak cask, which provides the spicy robustness, American Oak, which lends subtle vanilla smoothness and the Bourbon refill, which offers brown sugar sweetness, resulting in a smoother, richer, mellower taste. It has the notes of ripe pear and summer fruits and has a long and sweet finish with a subtle hint of smoke. It is available in select locations in India and is priced at INR 3,599 in Bangalore for 750 ml.

What makes Grant's blended whiskies so special?

Many whiskies take their flavour from just one cask, but we mature Grant’s Triple Wood in three different types of wood. To stay true and closely guard William Grant’s original recipes, five generations of Grants have stood together to hold the title of Scotland’s oldest family-run blended whisky makers.


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