Food & Drinks

Whisky maker hires dog to sniff out perfect aromas


Whisky lovers take pride of sniffing the notes of alcohol, be it in barrels or in a glass.

But now Rocco, a one-year-old Cocker Spaniel has just landed the dream job in the spirits industry.

The dog’s job is to sniff out the quality of the casks at the cooperage at the Grant’s Whisky distillery in Scotland, ensuring that it is perfect.

When he is done checking 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 it picks up the scent of anything that needs attention, it gets reported to Grant’s top dog, associate global brand director Chris Wooff. Rocco’s six-month training consisted of environmental and socialisation training in the early stages.

During the environmental training phase, he was trained to be around loud noises, people working and machinery operating, walking on different and difficult floor surfaces, to prepare him for work in a busy and sometimes dangerous distilleries.

He then took part in search training, indication training and was imprinted on the target odour which he is now trained to locate within the cooperage/distillery.

Rocco now regularly takes part in odour identification tests to ensure that he is performing at the top of his game for his role.

This training was done by the multi-award-winning dog handler, trainer and instructor Stuart Phillips of B.W.Y Canine.

Cocker Spaniels, English Springer Spaniels, Sprocker Spaniels and Labradors are Mr Phillips breeds of choice for detection dogs, and he supplies both trained and untrained dogs to several law enforcement clients internationally.

“A dog like Rocco has such a powerful natural sense of smell that my job was to help him focus on identifying specific scents in the wood, and then communicating what he’s found to Grant’s team,” said Mr Phillips.

Empty casks

Each day, Rocco will spend a few hours each day nosing the empty casks and inspecting the new ones arriving at the cooperage.

Wood is a natural material, and the distilling of whisky is an organic process, so the dog’s job 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 they specially selected and trained Rocco to pick up the scent of anything that is not quite right as the whisky matures.

Nosing is a common practice in the wine and cognac making industry, but the whisky maker wanted to maintain the tradition of their craft skills by using a dog’s natural super-sense of smell in the quality control process.

Rocco’s ability to ‘nose’ a very large number of casks in a short space of time means that it is a saving of having to hire a team of craftsmen.

To make sure that Rocco feels right at home and is on call night and day, Grant’s craftsmen have built him a kennel right outside the distillery in Scotland, and he is cared for by Grants’ team leader Lianne Noble, who prepares his daily work schedule and keeps him fed and exercised.

“The atmosphere lifts wherever Rocco is working at the distillery, and people can’t help but smile in his presence. However, he is a working dog rather than a workplace pet, so we have guidelines in place to make sure he doesn’t get disturbed when he is taking a break between shifts,” said Lianne.

On whether they plan to get more sniffer dogs in future, Mr Wooff said they will be closely monitoring Rocco’s progress and are open to expanding his team.