Important People of Whisky: The Cooper

17-07-2017 By Whizzky Staff Writer

We can all agree that we love the golden spirit. Some of us are just starting out on our whisky journey and some of us connoisseurs but we can all agree with a need to put the important people of whisky production under the spotlight. We are highlighting the important people of whisky and look forward to you joining us to celebrate these people.

The Cooper

The Cooper is perhaps the one of the major reasons we get to enjoy whisky if we take into account that a spirit must be matured in barrels to be called a whisky. The cooper is a highly skilled person that builds oak casks for the maturation of spirits and other beverages, in our case, whisky. Legend has it that when the devil set out to learn the secrets of every human to cause mischief on them, the only craft he could not master was that of the cooper.

Barrels stacked in cooperage

(Source: Sara Whitford. Image by Unknown)

Barrel making is a historic trade that requires one to have a natural ability for woodworking to turn wood into barrels where whisky matures. The highest-quality barrels are those hand-made by professional coopers. Barrels are essential to whisky because they store maturing whisky. Barrels also impart flavour and colour to a maturing whisky as it is completely clear in its natural, un-aged form.

Barrel making is quite special to coopers who use their "senses" as well as artisan skills to create barrels. Feeling and working with wood, listening and other sensory skills form part of common speak inside cooperages. The barrel making process starts with preparing the wood by keeping it stacked and exposed to the elements for sometime to dry and get seasoned. The prepared wood is then cut into rectangular pieces called staves, put together and partially bound to be toasted. Whilst charring takes place, other staves are put together and cut into barrel heads to be toasted and fitted into the barrel. After the toasted barrels are shaped into barrels and the toasted barrel heads are skillfully fitted into the barrels, a bunghole is cut out. The next steps involve finishing the barrels before being sold to whisky producers.

Check out the video below to see a Master Cooper making a barrel.