FAMILY-owned Scotch whisky distiller William Grant & Sons has underlined its commitment to continuing traditional skills by pledging to appoint two new apprentice coopers at Girvan, noting that this trade dated back to Roman times.

It made the promise as it announced its first two apprentice coopers in 24 years had passed their “trade test” at the Girvan distillery.

Stewart Millarvie, 19, and Fraser Henderson, 21, had completed three years and two months of their four-year apprenticeship by the time they passed their test last month, with two experts from the National Cooperage Federation conducting the final assessment.

William Grant said Mr Millarvie and Mr Henderson would “now complete their final 10 months adjusting to their future work environment”.

The distiller said it would begin the search for two new apprentices later this year.

William Grant said: “Coopering is an ancient trade dating back to Roman times, and is a physical job that requires great precision.”

Girvan site leader Stuart Watts said: “Traditional skills are at the heart of the continuing success of our business. Our company has two cooperages, one in Girvan for our Grant’s whisky and another in Dufftown, home of Glenfiddich and The Balvenie single malts.

“The quality of the wood and casks used in whisky maturation is critical to the final characteristics of the spirit and we’re committed to retaining our own coopers.”

He added: “Most young people have no idea what a cooper does, let alone consider becoming one. It can offer a very rewarding career and the fact that one of our Girvan coopers, Brian McKenzie, has been with us for 47 years shows it really can be a job for life.”

William Grant noted there were 182 coopers and 49 apprentices in training in the UK – declaring this was the highest number in 14 years.

Mr Henderson said: “We learned all our skills from our mentor, Paul Ross, who has worked for the company for 29 years. As well as learning how to repair casks and make them, we work with different cask types, from miniatures to 2,000-litre tuns.”

Mr Millarvie said: “We feel honoured to be able to carry on this traditional skill. To pass this stage of our training we had to sit a practical test. It was bit nerve-racking, but after four years of training we were ready for the challenge and we’re both delighted we passed.”