Leeds beer barrel man seeks apprentice

THIRSTY WORK: Master cooper Alastair Simms is on the lookout for an apprentice.
THIRSTY WORK: Master cooper Alastair Simms is on the lookout for an apprentice.
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The last master cooper in England wants to pass on his ancient skills to an apprentice.

Alastair Simms, 52, who makes wooden casks for the ale trade at his workshop on the Thorp Arch Estate, Wetherby, is offering a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn the beery trade.

When Mr Simms began in the profession 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, resulting in the craft almost fading away but for the handful of skilled craftsmen existing around today.

Mr Simms established the White Rose Cooperage in 2013 with the aim of keeping the tradition of crafting wooden casks, barrels and vats by hand alive.

The cooper’s enterprise coincided with an explosion of micro breweries across West Yorkshire.

David Litten, from the Society for the Preservation of Beers in the Wood, said: “His return to Yorkshire has certainly stimulated interest in the use of wooden casks. The amazing growth in numbers of real ale micro breweries 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 very unique. Together with certain pubs, like The Junction at Castleford, 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.”