There are very few specialties that can be categorized as scientific, artistic, and part of the trade industry. The work of a cooper is all of those things and more. Coopers have a long and rich history dating back to around 300 BC. It’s hard to fully trace barrel making history because many of the artifacts have been lost to time and wood rot. Most can agree that for around 2,000 years barrels were the most convenient and widely used method of transport due to their sturdy and durable nature. Transporting goods in barrels became much less prevalent as we modernized but one thing is certain: barrels are an integral part in wine and spirits.
Barrel making took more time and required specialized labor, but ended up replacing clay pots because of the volume barrels could hold. Plus, it became quite clear that wooden barrels had an added benefit: they added unique and distinct flavors to the liquids they stored.
Wood choice plays an important role in the end result of the distillation process. Oak is generally preferred. The alcohol content in whiskey acts as a solvent causing the breakdown of wood compounds. This is how the unique flavors are aged into whiskey. Knowing which wood and barrel to use for different wines, beers, and spirits is all part of the vast knowledge required of coopers. Crafting trees into barrels is an art form. Transforming the liquid into the spirits we enjoy is science.