The last master in England seeks an apprentice

Master cooper Alastair Simms. Picture: Mark Wayt
Master cooper Alastair Simms. Picture: Mark Wayt
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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 brewers 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 today.

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

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

Beer expert David Litten, from the Society for the Preservation of Beers in the Wood, said: “Alastair’s 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.”

With this encouraging background Alastair’s order book is bulging to bursting point.

He requires an apprentice cooper to pass on the ancient craft to meet this demand and in so doing expand his business.

The apprenticeship is for four years.

The job specification reads: “For the successful applicant, this is a unique, once in a lifetime opportunity to be the envy of his or her peers by learning a skill that will keep the trade alive. The apprenticeship takes four years to complete, meaning that a strong dedicated work ethic is essential. Physically, the ability to lift heavy loads is a must and working both indoors and outside should hold no fears. Strong interpersonal skills are a necessity as communication with suppliers, clients and the media are vital to the business.”

The role usually means working five days out of seven and will sometimes include weekends and bank holidays.

The job is primarily based at the unit on the Thorp Arch Estate, near Wetherby. However some repair work may be required at clients’ locations. This can involve travel away.

Applicants should send a CV and covering letter by August 31 to The White Rose Cooperage, Unit 191, Street 6, Thorp Arch Estate, Wetherby LS23 7FP or via email to alastair@whiterosecooperage.co.uk.