As a follow up to last week’s bit of fun, it’s time to put on the suits and the polished shoes and be a tad more formal in describing what really happened on Wednesday 7th September 2022 and what exactly is Red Rock Mountain Cooperage. If you missed last week’s article, then CLICK HERE to catch up before you read on.
The short summary is: we signed a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding – basically a fancy way of saying a business deal) as the lead partner and lead investor in the Red Rock Mountain Cooperage at the CIFIT (China International Fair for Investment & Trade) conference in Xiamen, Fujian Province.
Before we get into the nitty gritty, we’d like to give a shout out to Dr. Harley Seyedin and his team at AMCHAM South China for (once again) doing anything and everything to help us make this happen.
A Cooperage? What?
Whisky enthusiasts will likely know what a cooperage is, but bear with us while we let everyone in on this. Feel free to skip to the next section if you’re already in the know.
Whisky needs a few things to turn into the drink that we all love to relax with. Malted barley, yeast, water, a bit of magic to ferment everything, and then a still to distill the fermented wash into new make (or “raw”) whisky. But that’s not where the transition ends. The new make whisky needs to go and swish around in an oak barrel for a few years to tame it. By that, we mean the barrel needs to pass on some colour, additional aromas, and flavours from the both the barrel itself and whatever former use the barrel might have had. The point is that barrels have an enormous influence on the whisky’s final profile.
These barrels are made by highly skilled craftspeople called coopers, and their magical factory is called a cooperage. Magic truly isn’t far from the truth. It takes an incredible amount of skill, talent, and experience to craft barrels, especially when you consider that they only use oak wood, a few steel hoops, fire, and water. Absolutely no glue is used (as this would taint the whisky) yet coopers still manage to create something that is watertight.
Why Does Nine Rivers Distillery Need A Cooperage?
It’s true, we could make whisky without a cooperage; most distilleries in the world don’t have their own cooperage. A few of the bigger group producers with many different whisky or whiskey brands in their portfolio still have at least some cooperage functions. It makes sense when there are economies of scale. But most of the smaller brands don’t bother and startups certainly don’t explore the route of making their own barrels.
But, well, that’s them, and this is us. We never started our project to just be “another one of those.” We promised from the start we would do more than just say different, we would be different. Quality would always come first and we don’t think any whisky producer can claim to be putting quality first AND being distinctive if they are buying the same old casks from the handful of coopers out there producing barrels.
The entire barrel making industry in pretty much dominated by just a few names who crank out the same generic barrels for the masses. While we certainly are not claiming that there are any faults with their barrel craftsmanship, we also can’t claim to be in complete control over everything that goes into crafting our whiskies without making our own barrels. After all, most respected whisky experts attribute between 40% and 60% of the final aromas and flavours of whisky being a direct result of the barrel and its interactions with the maturing whisky. Therefore, in keeping to our promise of quality, a cooperage is an absolute necessity to our vision and our commitment to crafting amazing whiskies.
The Low Down
Red Rock Mountain Cooperage will be almost 7000 square meters in total footprint and will be built to produce 100,000 barrels a year, right here in Da Chi, Longyan, Fujian Province. It will be built on a land parcel that joins our distillery site with the distance between the cooperage and our own dunnage (cask maturation warehouse) being almost 30 meters, or 18 Haydens laid end to end. We know, we actually measured the distance by laying him down on the floor 18 times. #truestory.
We will be working from raw or green timber – wood that hasn’t been air dried and seasoned so it will need time for the elements to reduce the moisture content and to wash away some of the harsher tannins from the wood. It will have a stave mill to create staves from dried planks – each barrel needs 32 staves, so we’ll need to churn out 3.2 million staves a year to make 100’000 barrels.
There will be a vast, open plan cooperage work area with provisions for shaping, crafting, toasting, and, of course, charring the barrels.
We plan to have an immersive visitors experience where visitors can watch the entire end-to-end barrel making process from the safety of an elevated mezzanine floor encircling the production area.
When Is It All Happening?
It’s underway right now! We are recruiting the first batch of potential trainees in October. We will then immerse them in some intensive English language training before we send them off to the far corners of the world to spend a couple of years learning how to be coopers.
In the meantime, we’ll crack on with the architecture of the new Red Rock Mountain Cooperage and hope to start building it towards the end of 2023.
We got some press coverage about the event thanks to our friends over at AMCHAM South China. The complete list of news websites and news wires that covered both the AMCHAM delegation to CIFIT and the signing of our MOU is 7 pages long, but we have listed some of our favourite ones below.
If you have a few minutes, click through and read a few. .
- China Daily
- Xiamen TV – (skip forward to 3 minutes and 10 seconds on the video)
- PR News Wire
- Xinhua – News.Cn
- Open PR
- Hainan News
- Dao Yi You Dao News
- Tou Tiao News
- East Money
- 163 News
Artwork This Week
Yes we know, it’s really quite random. The rumours are that one leading member of the content editorial team (our money is on it being Phill Stout) discovered one of those funky AI driven arty doodling websites and decided to let it loose on a few cooperage related phrases.
We liked some of them so much, we decided to share them with you all. It really is that simple. Why? Just because we can.
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