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Wednesday 30 July 2014

Peculiar brewer seeks barrel apprentice

27th June, 2014 by Neal Baker

The rare opportunity of mastering an age-old beer-brewery skill has emerged, as British ale-makers Theakston’s begin their search for an apprentice ‘cooper’ — a crafter and repairer of wooden beer casks.

theakstonsbarrels

The classic way: Antique barrels of the famous brew

The Daily Mail reports that the lucky individual will be the only apprentice brewery cooper in the country, making the job one of the rarest in the industry.

The chosen apprentice will undergo a three to four year training period in order to learn how to produce, re-make and repair the family-owned brewery’s wooden casks.

And they will be learning from the master, as Jonathan Manby – who joined Theakston’s as an apprentice himself in 1995 – is the country’s last remaining brewery-employed craft cooper. Mr Manby, 39, makes hundreds of oak casks each year for licensees that insist on having their ales delivered in this traditional manner.

Some of the tools that the new apprentice will likely need to master

Some of the tools that the new apprentice will likely need to master

Brewery director, Simon Theakston said: “We are very proud to be one of the last breweries in the country to supply our ale in wooden casks and also to be preserving an ancient and skilled art.

“Tradition is respected not only in the brewing industry but in thousands of pubs throughout the country. We know consumers strongly approve of the idea of beer served from wood and we plan to continue that tradition.”

The trade specifically involves making flat-ended barrels with bent staves of wood, bound by hammered metal hoops. It is said to date back to the Roman age, and was considered one of the most important medieval crafts, evidenced by the appropriation of the word ‘cooper’ as a surname into a number of different languages.

The finished product. Theakston's famous Old Peculiar ale

The finished product: Theakston’s Old Peculiar ale

However, the prevalence of modern metal and plastic casks in the country drastically reduce in the past half-century.

“We have been using wooden casks since the company was founded by my great, great grandfather 187 years ago,” continued Theakston.

“The last time we advertised for this position was in 1995, and Jonathan Manby was the successful applicant.

“Watching Jonathan at work is fascinating and he uses the same methods and tools to create casks that coopers have used for hundreds and hundreds of years.

“The growing popularity of our cask ales means that Jonathan now requires another pair of hands to help him in his important job. However, coopering is a skill that cannot be learned overnight, and the training period can take up to four years.

“It is hard work, but the lucky applicant will know they are in a unique position – that of being the country’s only brewery-employed apprentice craft cooper.”

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