The CBC has a good story about Alastair Simms, the only working master cooper left in Britain. I wonder why they would be carrying the story of a wooden barrel maker from another land? There is a certain romance for such things of the old country still in Canada but we still have coopers in Canada due to the wine and whiskey industries, continuing local production that has existed since at least 1665. Sad to see that the UK may not be in such a robust position as this former colony:
Many of his tools are hand-me-downs from previous coopers. He picks up a well-worn topping plane, used for smoothing the top of a cask. Pointing to the different sets of initials on it, he calculates the tool is about 130 years old. His most treasured possession is a block mark, a stamp with his initials, ADS. The block is "the right for me to work as a cooper and every time that's put in a cask that I've made, that's put in with pride." There are thought to be just four other coopers working with British brewers these days, none of them at the master level, which denotes a journeyman who has trained at least one apprentice, a process that takes four and a half years at not a great income. So you can see the problem attracting new blood.
But, it is to be noted that there are still cooperages in Scotland for the whisky trade. Ahh, I see...the story in the Telegraph from two weeks ago that the CBC, err, followed up on says he is the last master cooper in England, not all of Britain. Another system applies to Scotland. Still, it is interesting to see from the start of a tree's life to the end of a barrel's useful life is an astounding 375 years. Neato. Video of a BBC interview to be seen, too. Kind of thing you think someone might be interested in taking up. You know, if I were not in another country with another job and obligations and all that and yada-yada-yada...well, ok, I'd never do it. Too damn lazy and not real handy. I'd be a bad cooper. The cooper that starved.