There was an international competition a couple of years ago for the Best Job in the World. The main selling point was getting to live on a tropical island. Well, at the most recent Irish Whiskey Society tasting we had the opportunity to meet Alex Chasko, Cooley's Innovation Manager since January 2010. Paid to experiment in a whiskey distillery? I think we can agree that knocks loitering beneath the palms into a cocked hat.
Alex's path to this dream position began with being born in Oregon, a state famed for its craft brewing (I'm taking that on trust since I don't know much about beer). It was no surprise then that he fell into the beer business, opening a micro-brewery in Singapore along the way. A degree in Brewing and Distilling from Heriot-Watt University in Scotland underpinned the practice with theory and now he's in Ireland (an Irish wife had a say in that part).
He brought along one of his experiments for us to try. He is quite taken with "bog oak", chunks of tree that have been preserved for hundreds or thousands of years in Ireland's bogs. We saw some samples of this now-black wood, having absorbed the essence of bog over the centuries. Alex took some of the Turf Mór whiskey and popped in some chunks of this oak for a period of 12 days. He figures this would have a similar effect to the whiskey being stored in a cask made of the same wood for six months.
It definitely influences the whiskey. I regret to say I had polished off my Turf Mór sample by this point so I can't really compare the two. The ultimate idea is to adapt a normal cask by, say, replacing an end or stave with this bog oak. Perhaps an entire cask is possible.
We feel very lucky as society members to get such insights into product development at the various distilleries. Cooley has been especially open with us. We look forward to more "thinking outside of the cask" from their official ideas man.