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Thursday 23 March 2023 Dublin: 12°C
# coopering
The last craft: Ever wondered how a cask is made? Here's how
Coopering is the ancient craft of cask-making that requires a lot of skill.

Franciscan Well Jameson 14 John Sheehan John Sheehan

COOPERING IS ONE of the most difficult and ancient of crafts, which Ger Buckely, a fifth generation master cooper describes as “the last craftsmanship”.

Buckley followed in his father’s footsteps and has been making casks since he was a young boy. He says the smell of whiskey reminds him of his childhood, not because of the drinking, he says, but because he spent his time in the distillery learning his craft with his family.

“Many people don’t know that there is no adhesive, no glue holding a cask together.” explained Buckley, who said the tradition of making casks has not changed in thousands of years.

Video / YouTube

Infusing tastes

At the launch of Franciscan Well Jameson-Aged Pale Ale, a collaboration between Cork brewery Franciscan Well and Jameson Irish Whiskey, Buckley talked to the crowd about all things cask.

A cask is a large container that holds alcohol, such as ale, beer or whiskey. To create this new Pale Ale, the distillers have experimented with the effect of Jameson barrels on the popular style of pale ale. The experimenting of infusing the taste of whiskey with the Pale Ale creates an unusual, yet pleasing, taste to the palate. But this is not the first time this has been done.

Re-using casks has been done for generations, to experiment with new and interesting tastes and flavours that are held within the wood and grain of the cask.

To ensure that there are no leaks, casks have to be made with precision and skill. Buckley showed the crowd how to make and dismantle a cask – not an easy task.

unnamed (6) John Sheehan John Sheehan

He explained that that the first people to make casks were the Egyptians in 2600BC, adding that very little has changed in that time.

The construction of the cask is virtually the same. “The tools have slightly improved over the centuries and the major change that has happened over the last few hundred years is that we use steel hoops now instead of timber hoops,” he said.

Game of Thrones casks

“So, if you are watching the likes of Game of Thrones, you will see timber hoops as it is apt to the period. Timber hoops  would have been made from ash, hazel – flexible hoops,” he explained.

He explained that each area where cask-making is found, the people there came up with the tools separately, out of necessity to their needs.

Buckley also had quite the revelation – that IKEA were not the first to invent the flat-pack, it was in fact, the Romans.

Video / YouTube

Buckley wasn’t lying alright, there is no glue holding these casks together. With one lift of the top hoop and all came asunder.

cask gif

Dangerous business

The act of hammering down on the hoops looks like dangerous business, but is something that Buckley says coopers get used to, though while learning the thumbs can get a battering, with many actually losing a finger if not done right.


Buckley added that each Cooper has their own technique and sound and even before entering the distillery, you would know who was in work that day by the sound.

He said he was going to pass on the skills he had learned from his father so that the skills will not be lost for future generations.

He explained that the one American Bourbon cask, a barrel  - 40 gallons, as it is American size, while the European size is 32 gallons.


“Every region developed its own cask for its own needs. The main cask we had here in Cork was a ‘firkin’. If you go up the borough exchange in Shandon, and you go to the Firkin Crane building, it is called that because the main barrel it exported its butter in was a firkin, a 15 litre cask.”

“In 1850 in Cork, they were making 5,500 firkins a week. All the oak was coming from up-state New York because we lost most of our oak from the conquerers who came over here. First thing they would do when they took over an estate was to make some money cut down the oak and sell it,” said Buckley.

“Everything I am doing here, is a thousand years old. If a Roman walked in here now, he would know exactly what I am doing,” he said.

Here he shows how each piece is pieced back together again.

Video / YouTube

As quickly as he had dismantled it, it was back together in one piece.

Video / YouTube

Ta da!


Read: Beer Club: How craft beer is becoming the new wine>

Read: Guinness is making two new beers – and here’s what they’ll look like>

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