On his 50th birthday in May 2013, after 18 years at Wadworth Brewery in Wiltshire, Master Cooper Alastair Simms returned to God’s Own County to establish the White Rose Cooperage Ltd on the Thorp Arch Estate near Wetherby. He is the last remaining Master Cooper in England and is the country’s only independent commercial cooper. He is now offering a unique, once in a lifetime opportunity to the right candidate to become his apprentice and learn the ancient trade in making and repairing wooden casks bound by metal hoops for the brewing industry.
When he began back in the 1970s, there were still around one hundred coopers in the UK but the advent of metal casks in the 1960s saw numbers decline, thus resulting in the craft almost fading away but for the handful of skilled craftsmen existing today.
Alastair established the White Rose Cooperage with the aim of keeping the tradition of crafting wooden casks, barrels and vats by hand alive. His return to Yorkshire has certainly stimulated interest in the use of wooden casks. The amazing growth in numbers of real ale microbreweries in Britain and Yorkshire in particular has meant that there is hope. The revival of demand for wooden casks is already taking place in the search for something both traditional and yet unique.
Together with certain pubs, some breweries have proved that great beer can have an additional dimension if stored in wood. They have experimented with spirit casks and have also had great success with “Ageing in Wood”. Not only do wooden casks add a depth of taste to the stronger, darker beers which metal casks cannot provide but successful recent trials with lighter beers also show that they certainly add that something extra to them too. Spearheading the vanguard to maintain the tradition is the Junction at Castleford where Maureen Shaw and Neil Midgley only serve real ales from their own wooden casks.
With this encouraging background Alastair’s order book is bulging to bursting point. Thus he requires an apprentice cooper to pass on the ancient craft to meet this demand and in so doing expand his business. Additionally, Alastair has several ongoing contracts with large regional brewers and major cider producers who still use traditional methods for their premium products. These include the use of large vats that require special attention from the traditional cooper for maintenance from time to time.
For the successful applicant, this is a unique, once in a lifetime opportunity to be the envy of his or her peers by learning a skill that will keep the trade alive. The apprenticeship takes four years to complete, meaning that a strong dedicated work ethic is essential. Physically, the ability to lift heavy loads is a must and working both indoors and outside should hold no fears. Strong interpersonal skills are a necessity as communication with suppliers, clients and the media are vital to the business.
The role usually means working five days out of seven and will sometimes include weekends & bank holidays. Flexibility is key as the apprentice may be required to work early mornings and late evenings. The job is primarily based at the unit on the Thorp Arch Estate, near Wetherby. However, due to the nature of the business, some repair work may be required at clients’ locations. Travel away from the usual workplace is expected on occasions and can be for extended periods of time.
Anyone interested in this chance to continue this unparalled and most skilful of trades should apply with a covering letter either by post to The White Rose Cooperage, Unit 191, Street 6, Thorp Arch Estate, Wetherby LS23 7FP or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.