Job rarity: apprentice cooper
English brewery preserves endangered art of barrel making
Brewing tradition on the up: the small number of brewery coopers in the UK is set for a welcome boost with the appointment of an apprentice at the T&R Theakston workshop.
Starting in October, the successful applicant will spend up to four years learning the craft of cask-making at the bench of Jonathan Manby, who joined the North Yorkshire brewery as an apprentice himself in 1995.
It will not only double the size of the team wielding an adze at Theakston, but give Manby the rare opportunity of claiming the official title of Master Cooper for himself.
“You can't call yourself that unless you've trained an apprentice,” explained executive director Simon Theakston. “Jon deserves it. There's no reason to wait 20 or more years until he retires to bring in someone new, and we're only too pleased to play our part in the preservation of a wonderful tradition and a wonderful skill.
“We're also very proud of the fact that we're one of the few employing coopers, and we feel we have a responsibility to make sure the craft has a future. This is good news for everyone and our vote of confidence in the future of cask ale.”
He confirmed that growing sales, including those to pubs that continue to insist on serving ale 'from the wood' in traditional barrels, has allowed Theakston to expand the cooperage.
“There is a resurgent interest in cask ale, and we're lucky to be in the right place at the right time,” he said. “We're delighted that we have a growing consumer base. But we're not complacent. Our focus has to be on quality and developing new cask and craft ales with new flavours.”
As well as making casks, Manby's demonstrates his skills for visitors to the brewery and at fairs, festivals and shows all over the country.
According to the job advert, applicants for the apprenticeship position will require “a keen eye and aptitude for detail to joint, raise and bend staves, to size casks and finish to a high standard.” They will also be trained in all areas of cellar work and beer dispense.
As well as Theakston, three other English breweries, Wadworth, Marston's and Samuel Smith, continue to supply beers in wooden casks.