Alastair Simms of White Rose Cooperage, the last working independent Master Cooper in England, takes on a new apprentice funded by the Worshipful Company of Coopers.
Alastair Simms, owner of White Rose Cooperage of Thorp Arch, near Wetherby, North Yorkshire, is pleased to announce that he has taken on his first apprentice, Kean Hiscock. Alastair is the last independent working Master Cooper in England and learned his craft from T. & R. Theakston, brewers of Masham, North Yorkshire.
Kean’s apprenticeship will last for four years and his work will cover all aspects of White Rose Cooperage activities. These include the making and repair of wooden casks and the repair of fixed wooden vessels installed in breweries, cider mills and distilleries. These combined industries have experienced an increase in the demand for wooden containers, reflecting the rise in popularity of craft beers, ciders and spirits produced by micro-breweries, cider makers and distilleries in the UK. As an independent cooperage, White Rose works for a great variety of customers, rather than for one big brewer full time.
Kean is an Indentured Apprentice which is issued by the National Cooperage Federation. During his 4 year apprenticeship he will have to keep a journal of what he learns and during this period he will also get the chance to work in brewery and whisky cooperages.
The extra demand for wooden containers has caused White Rose Cooperage to take on an apprentice. Kean is aged 18 and lives in Garforth, near Leeds. The business has also taken on extra permanent support with the recruitment of a qualified wine cooper from Adelaide, South Australia.
There are no courses run in England by further educational establishments, and thus, he cannot attend say, a technical college on a weekly day release basis. Instead, he must learn from Mr. Simms ‘on the job’, which has the benefit of one to one practical training with a very experienced working cooper. That experience covers working at the Cooperage at Thorp Arch, and also in joining Alastair in travelling to breweries and cider mills across England to repair vats and other fixed wooden vessels.
The cost of Kean’s apprenticeship has been funded externally, principally by the Worshipful Company of Coopers, a London based livery company (www.coopers-hall.co.uk) . The Company is keen to support and foster a revival in wooden cask making in England, where there is relatively little use of wooden casks at present compared with the situation in Scotland, where a vibrant scotch whisky industry keeps cooperages north of the border active, based on the requirement to mature whisky only in wooden casks.
Alastair Simms said ‘As a result of the increasing demand for and use of coopered casks and vessels, we have been very stretched of late, and I am pleased that in taking on Kean as my apprentice, we should be able to satisfy more easily a growing order book, whilst maintaining the future stability of and hopefully, succession in the business. There is a lot for Kean to learn and I hope that he will progress fast. He shows great promise and I am very pleased he has joined me as my apprentice’.
Kean Hiscock said:
I am pleased to have been taken on by Mr. Simms as his apprentice, who has given me a unique opportunity to learn valuable skills in a lifetime’s career. There is so much to learn, but with the help of Mr. Simms, I hope to progress rapidly.
The Master of the Worshipful Company of Coopers, Mr. Vivian Bairstow, said:
We have been very keen to assist in the revival of coopering in England to include the growth and development of White Rose Cooperage, run by Alastair Simms, the last independent English working Master Cooper. The Coopers’ Company has taken the lead in arranging the funding of a new apprentice for Alastair Simms, and we look forward to learning of Kean’s progress.
The Coopers’ Company is engaged in many charitable works and, supporting the craft in this unique way, has been an opportunity we had to grasp. We hope that little by little, there will be a greater demand for coopered casks, which are not only part of England’s and our heritage, but also are natural wooden containers for the wide range of natural products produced by many breweries, cider mills and distilleries.
- Alastair Simms aged 52
- Cassandra Kaye Phillips is a qualified wine cooper from South Australia and was taken on to expand the cooperage into the British wine market
- Theakston and Samuel Smith breweries in North Yorkshire both have apprentices
- What is a Master Cooper? In England an apprentice cooper becomes a journeyman cooper upon completion of his four-and-a-half year training.
- He gains the rank of master when he successfully trains his first apprentice.
- A wooden cask is a generic expression for all sizes:
- Pin 4.5 gallon
- Firkin 9 gallon
- Kilderkin 18 gallon
- Barrel 36 gallon
- Hogshead 54 gallon
- Puncheon 72 gallon beer / 85 to 120 gallon spirit
- Butt 108 gallon
- Tun 225 gallon
Many other associated companies within the London Livery are keen to assist in the revival of this ancient craft.