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Friday 29 August 2014

Making carved oak whisky bottles for the launch of 'Naked Grouse' whisky in the UK: Part One

In May this year a marketing company based in Glasgow, called Material, contacted me about a carving project.  I was recommended to them by Andy O'Neill, a chainsaw carver who is based in Bristol.

The company that make the well-known 'Famous Grouse' whisky were putting a new premium malt blend on general release in the UK, called 'Naked Grouse'. The marketing would highlight the craftsmanship involved in making the drink, which is where my woodcarving came in.

Image from:
I was asked if I could make wooden replicas of the Naked Grouse bottle on plinths, to go on display as part of the promotion. The plinths would then be carved live in bars, with the logo of each establishment.

First of all, I took measurements and a profile from a sample bottle...

...then got on with turning six replica bottles using these measurements. The wood came from an oak tree that grew near Nether Stowey on the Quantock Hills in Somerset. Oak seemed a particularly appropriate timber to use, as the whisky is aged in oak casks. It was interesting to note, whilst turning, that the oak shavings had a particular smell that could also be noticed in the whisky.

It's been a while since I've done any woodturning and it was nice to get back to it, even though an electrical fault in the first lathe managed to short out the electrical circuits in my workshop! However, one new lathe later and the bottles started coming out nicely.

The turned bottles were then carved with the embossed grouse logo and the writing on the neck label. I used a Dremel hand drill for this part, as it could reproduce the fine lines that the designs required.

If you are wondering why the tops and bottoms of the bottles still had wood attached, it meant that I could work on them without handling the surfaces of the bottles too much and making them grubby, which can be a problem when working with oak (perhaps because of the tannins in it?).

Once the bottles had been carved, it was time to make the plinths. These were boxes constructed from offcuts of oak floorboards.

At the same time, I did colour tests to get the right blend of stains to match the colour of the oak bottles to the whisky. You may also be able to see that the level of liquid in the sample bottle has dropped by now-all in the sake of research of course!

It was back to school for the next bit. I stopped studying physics back then, but found that making the circuits for the LED lights was going to require some education online. Resistors, diodes, voltages: phew!

By this time, the bottles had been carved and I'd started to stain them.

I fitted the LED lights into the plinths using some short lengths of aluminium tubing, to give a neater uplight effect that showed off the grouse logo and the carved label nicely: 

After some adjusting of the height of the plinths, six bottle sculptures were nearly complete.

naked grouse whiskey

There was just the final, very important, part to be done. I needed to travel to London to carve the names of the bars on location!

And that will be in the next post...


  1. Did anybody ever contact you about your incredible family Bible? I've been rummaging around alot of 'material' during a flat move, but have nothing that has an intriging tale, dating back to past centuries (apart from the last, of course....). I wish certain objects could tell us about their origins...

  2. No, I haven't heard from anyone as yet. It's nice to know that the information is on here for someone to find one day though. It seemed a shame to have it stored away and lost to people who might be interested.
    It certainly would be an experience to be able to see what the person who wrote those entries saw of London at that time. I suspect it must have been a tough life for the Rutter family. I wonder what happened to the daughters? Did they go into service, or move to another part of the country? I'd also love to know how the bible came into the possession of my great-grandmother. Alas, the answers will almost certainly remain unknown, but perhaps that is how it should be.
    I hope all went well with the move too and look forward to seeing how it inspires new magpie posts!