Since 1979, Alastair Simms has used classic techniques to build and repair casks by hand. Today, he is one of the few remaining master coopers in the world. At White Rose Cooperage in Yorkshire, England, he shares his love of the craft. These are his reflections.
“The ultimate goal? To die while I’m making a barrel. It’s my whole life; it’s first, second and third, and the missus comes somewhere after that,” Simms jokes. “There’s a great joy in going to the breweries and drinking beer out of the casks and thinking, ‘Whew, I made that!’”
"Now, instead of me making the cask and dispatching them off to the brewery, I talk to the brewer about what he’s looking for flavor-wise. If we’re making brand new casks, different oaks give different flavors. You can get a dry chardonnay finish from a quercus sessile barrel or a quercus robur barrel gives a fresh apple taste to it. A quercus pedunculate barrel will give you a nice vanilla after-flavor, and the quercus alba (American white oak) gives you coconut flavor. That used to be mostly for wine, but it’s now creeping into beer."
“One of the best things is working in the workshop with all of the different tools; most of the tools are 150, 160 years old. To me, the satisfaction is picking up tools and thinking that three or four coopers have used them before I’ve used them, and they were doing the job the way I do it.”