Coopers, often referred to as artisans of wood, are professional craftsmen who create barrels or casks for whiskey and various other alcoholic beverages, such as sherry, bourbon and wine. The craft dates back to the origins of the wooden barrels themselves. It is estimated that, on average, 6,000 coopers once worked this artisan trade in Ireland, building and repairing wooden barrels for the once-thriving whiskey and beer industries that are now enjoying a renaissance. In fact, Irish Whiskeys and beers have become Ireland’s calling card around the world.
Coopers have worked in The Liberties for hundreds of years. They were the original packaging experts for dry and wet goods. The breweries and distilleries in the area employed them to mature and transport their goods. Dr. Pearse Lyons’ ancestors on his mother’s side, the Dunnes, were skilled in this craft for generations. Indeed, one family member, Margaret Dunne, is recorded as the first female cooper in Ireland.
Irish Whiskeys and other craft beverages are aged in wooden barrels. Storing the liquid in barrels allows for the wood to impart its rich, nutty, spicy flavours and aromas. This process further enhances the drinkability of the liquid contained within. Due to the global rise in demand for Irish Whiskey, the need for coopers and their finished products is stronger than ever.
Irish Whiskey matures from anywhere between three years and a day to over 40 years. The barrels expand and contract with age and according to the temperature of the warehouse in which they rest. It is in reaction to this maturation process that the coopers play their most vital role. As the wood ages and the spirit within matures, cracks or other changes can appear in the wood. The coopers repair, maintain and protect the casks as they age.