Cooper’s mission to keep the barrels rolling

Alastair Simms, White Rose Cooperage and Sarah Clark, Yorkshire Bank
Alastair Simms, White Rose Cooperage and Sarah Clark, Yorkshire Bank
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THE oldest known painting of a cask dates back to 2960 BC and was found on a wall inside a pyramid.

Jump forward to Roman Britain and the ancient town of Silchester and you will find the earliest known use of a cask in this country.

Today, Alastair Simms, born and bred in the North Yorkshire village of Masham, is one of the few remaining coopers in Britain.

He is determined to preserve and pass on the centuries-old trade of making traditional casks from wooden staves for beer, wine, cider and spirits.

Mr Simms, 50, has set up White Rose Cooperage Ltd after winning backing from Yorkshire Bank for his business plan.

He told the Yorkshire Post: “I’m trying to keep the trade of coopering alive and will hopefully at some point take on an apprentice so I can pass the trade on and keep it going.

“The ultimate goal is to have a cooperage and visitor centre so you get the history of the coopering and see all the aspects of coopering, whether it’s traditional or done with modern machinery.”

Mr Simms is reckoned to be one of four brewery coopers left in Britain.

Since launching, his company he has won work to provide casks made with traditional English oak for a new brewery in Lincoln launching this September.

He is also making casks for a new Warner Brothers film directed by Ron Howard called In the Heart of the Sea, billed as the real-life story of Moby Dick.

Mr Simms is supplying the producers with 1,000 used whisky and wine barrels among other items.

He will also help create a cooperage on set and will be filmed at work alongside ropemakers, sailmakers and blacksmiths.

He started his career as an apprentice at Theakstons brewery in Masham in 1979.

He learned the trade under the late Clive Hollis, who taught him to “listen with your eyes because they always tell you the truth”.

He left Theakstons in 1995 and joined Wadworth & Co Ltd, the Wiltshire-based brewer of 6X, where he spent 18 years.

Starting his own business was something he wanted to do for a long time.

He also wanted to pass on his skills to an apprentice. With a yearning to return to his Yorkshire roots, he decided to set up White Rose Cooperage in God’s Own Country.

His homecoming coincided with the rise of the microbrewing industry, which is now thought to be worth £20bn a year, with Yorkshire home to the most microbreweries in Britain.

He is keen to take on an apprentice in the next 12 months.

“The last thing I want to do is retire at 65 and not be able to pass on what knowledge I have got and keep the trade going,” he said.

Although he uses electric planing machines and band saws, everything else is done by hand.

In the future, Mr Simms wants to establish a visitor centre to show the history of cooperage from “day dot” to the modern times.

Yorkshire Bank has provided a £10,000 loan and £5,000 over-draft.

Mr Simms is investing £15,000 and has an additional £15,000 in ready cash flow for the first few months.

Rick Warburton, head of Yorkshire Bank’s Business and Private Banking Centre in Harrogate, said: “The growth in microbreweries and consumer interest in real ales means that Alastair Simms has a sound business proposition and Yorkshire Bank is pleased to be supporting him in his new venture.”

The lender’s Growing Business campaign, launched last autumn, is a package of initiatives including fee-free loans and overdrafts, including a £1bn fund and 24 months’ free banking for start-ups.

Mr Simms, who is a member of the The Worshipful Company of Coopers in London, has taken a three-year lease at Thorp Arch Estate for White Rose Cooper- age.

bernard.ginns@ypn.co.uk