Diageo recruits first female coopering apprentices

Diageo has recruited its first female coopering apprentices, acknowledging that while the ancient craft of creating oak casks has been part of Scotch whisky for centuries, it’s an art that has traditionally been dominated by men.

First-year coopering apprentices Angela Cochrane and Kirsty Olychick

First-year coopering apprentices Angela Cochrane and Kirsty Olychick have been recruited by leading Scotch distiller Diageo at its Cambus Cooperage in Clackmannanshire.

The news marked the start of Scottish Apprenticeship Week and coincided with International Women’s Day (8 March), with Diageo celebrating having women employed in every part of its business in Scotland, from senior management roles, to distillery managers, master blenders, electrical and mechanical engineers, and in the traditional crafts of coppersmith and coopering.

Former psychiatric nurse, Angela Cochrane, 31, gained the coveted spot on the Cambus Cooperage apprenticeship programme after noticing the advert on Facebook.

She said: “I researched a bit about the trade online and thought it sounded like a really interesting career option, so I knew I had to go for it. It’s a lot more complex than I thought it would be and I’m knackered when I get in at night but everything from handling the barrels to swinging the hammer is already starting to feel a lot more natural.

“I’ve never been put off by gender stereotypes. I don’t think that should stop anyone from doing what they want to do. And knowing you’re contributing to the growing whisky industry is an amazing feeling.”

Kirsty Olychick, 38, meanwhile, left her home in Canada to pursue a career in the Scotch whisky industry.

“Coming into a male-dominated workplace didn’t put me off at all, in fact I found it really empowering to be one of the first women to take up the craft and make my mark in history,” she said. “It’s such an exciting prospect to think that I’ll be contributing to the next generation of Scotch. You shouldn’t let anything hold you back.”

Angela and Kirsty are part of team of 16 coopering apprentices in the Coopering School at Diageo Cambus, learning the skills of a cooper over the course of a four-year apprenticeship.

Coopering tutor, John Carberry, added: “There is incredible precision involved in the cooper’s craft. Our apprentices need to master a blend of strength, skill and patience, learning how to hand repair casks with no glue or nails, as well as calculate different oak depths, ratios and specific measurements.

“The craft of making and rejuvenating the casks is something that has to be cultivated and refined so it’s great to see our apprentices are so passionate about the craft. The traditional coopering skills take 10 years to master but once mastered, it’s a rewarding career which will last a lifetime.”

Diageo opened the £10 million state-of-the art Cambus Cooperage in 2011. It is now able to produce over 400,000 casks each year.

In honour of International Women’s Day, check out our round-up of the women shaping the spirits industry today by clicking here

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