TRADITION is triumphing over technology in Scotland's whisky

distilleries and is helping to keep craftmanship alive.

A team from Lochwinnoch's Clyde Cooperage has just installed a

24,500-litre wooden ''washback'' which ferments the liquid which

eventually becomes Scotland's national drink and as well as being around

a third of the cost of the stainless steel alternative it is almost a

work of art.

Not a single nail or smear of glue has been used to fix the 85 Douglas

Fir battens which squeeze together to form the sides of the circular

container, and nothing but skill and precision stop the fluid from

flowing through the joints in the base.

Washbacks, in which the wort is fermented during the distilling

process, are traditionally wooden. Stainless steel provides a modern

substitute but at the Glenrothes Distillery, which supplies quality malt

for many famous Scottish blends, it has been decided that wood should

replace wood.

Mr James Lochhead, general manager of the distillery, said that the

stainless steel washbacks required a lot of maintenance but the wooden

washbacks required a lot of man hours and ''cosseting'' to preserve them

for up to 30 years.

One obvious factor which influenced the distillery was how incongruous

a stainless steel tank would look sitting among the 11 other wooden

washbacks in the building.

The youngest is more than 20 years and in time all will have to be

replaced. While replacing the first one Clyde Cooperage joiner and

foreman Mark McGinigal helped pass on the skill and know-how to enable

his younger colleagues to continue the work in years to come.

It is 12 years since he last made a washback and in 27 years with the

company has had to replace his own work on only one occasion when

washbacks were damaged by the cleaning process.

The Douglas fir battens for the job are imported from America and are

carefully selected before being cut to the required length of 12ft

7[3/4] in. They are then ''bellied and backed'' into a barrel like


The battens are fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle and after being

hammered into place in an operation which creates a deafening noise they

are surrounded by 15 steel hoops.

When their work is complete the washback is gradually filled and they

expect it to leak. However, they also expect that within two or three

weeks the wood will have expanded enough to close any tiny gaps when

wort is finally put inside.