Those who have spent time at whiskey distilleries in the past may have run into a furry friend or two – hardworking distillery cats that roam the hunt for rodents attracted by barley. Although the role of this moulting may have changed over the years, some gained fame beyond their lifespan through naming rights to special bottlings (notably Glenturret’s Towser Cask whiskey, which is reminiscent of a Guinness world record cat that got 28,899 mice in its 24 years caught in the distillery).
Now an 18-month-old puppy named Rocco gives whiskey nosing a new connotation: helping associate global brand director (and human) Chris Wooff sniff for flaws at Grant’s Whiskey Distillery in Girvan, Scotland. “A dog like Rocco’s sense of smell is 40 times stronger than that of a human, and we specifically selected and trained Rocco to smell anything that isn’t quite right when the whiskey matures,” Wooff told The Daily Record. “Mechanical ‘noses’ are common in the wine industry, but we wanted to keep the tradition of our craft skills by using a dog’s natural super-olfactory sense in our quality controls.”
Dogs help troubleshoot whiskey casks.
According to trainer Stuart Phillips of BWY Canine Training in Wales, the process of barrel sampling and other methods took over eight months, and Rocco learned the basics of the secret project with another cocker spaniel, Bran. “Should Rocco identify barrels, Rocco’s new handler will inform the cooperage’s employees who can put the barrels aside and not use them for the whiskey-making process,” says the BWY website. “Exactly what Rocco and Bran have been trained to sniff out will remain confidential, but whiskey drinkers can rest assured that the dogs will help spot imperfections in the wooden barrels and ensure that the quality of the whiskey produced remains at the exceptionally high standard that by the whiskey makers and the consumers who buy whiskey bottles. “
Both dogs were trained to deal with the elements of a busy distillery, including “loud noises, people and machines at work, walking on varied and difficult floor surfaces,” and completed search and indication training in preparation, according to Business Daily.
Attempts have been made to use dogs to detect imperfections in barrels. In 2019, TN Coopers, a cooperage in Chile, brought a team of dogs on board to hunt down TCA, TBA and other compounds that may contaminate the wood in wine barrels. “The underlying principle is that dogs have a much broader odor threshold than humans and can therefore detect very low levels of certain compounds just by their sense of smell,” Guillermo Calderón, TN Coopers marketing manager, told Wine Spectator.
Although the dogs have a serious job, their fluffy presence apparently lifts the mood significantly as well. Wine Spectator recently launched its edition dedicated to winery dogs bringing wagging tails and happy spirits to winemakers and visitors across California.
Rocco, who has his own kennel in the distillery and is considered a member of the team. “The atmosphere rises wherever Rocco works and people can’t help but smile in front of him,” Lianne Noble, Grant’s team leader in charge of Rocco, told The Daily Record. “He’s more of a working dog than a pet in the workplace, so we have guidelines in place to make sure he isn’t disturbed when taking a break between shifts, but the rise in morale has been a joy to see.”