Chris Kane has just become the first person of Ireland to graduate as a Cooper in more than 30 years.
Chris, who hails from the village of Bushmills itself, is the fourth generation of his family to cooper casks at the Old Bushmills Distillery, totalling 140 years of family service.
His great grandfather, Jimmy Kane, started coopering in 1935, followed by his grandfather, Johnny Kane, in 1951.
Chris himself began coopering at home with his father, Alastair, at the age of nine, and today he and his father keep this tradition alive as they work side-by-side in the Old Bushmills Distillery Cooperage.
It takes five years to learn the highly skilled trade of coopering, but in a true testament to his talent and determination, Chris took only four years to master the skills, using the same tools that his great grandfather wielded over 80 years ago.
Coopering is fundamental to the Irish Whiskey making process, with up to 80% of the character of the whiskey coming from the cask. In fact, the coopers are known as the ‘true guardians of Bushmills Irish Whiskey!’
Today the art of coopering, as is symptomatic of many manual trades, is a dying craft. As industries become increasingly mechanised, the need for hand-craftsmanship becomes less and less relevant.
Chris explains: “It might not be an obvious career choice but coopering has been a part of my life since I was a young guy. When the apprenticeship opportunity came up four years ago, I left what was probably deemed a good ‘sensible’ job to follow what has always been my real passion.
“The wood, barrels, tools and craft, along with the opportunity to work with my dad each day, have given me the chance to contribute to the Bushmills Irish Whiskey story – it’s a dream job!”