ADVERTISER MESSAGE: As we celebrate with all of our friends who make St. Patrick's Day great, we raise a glass to Jameson for sponsoring this story.
Ger Buckley is the master cooper for Jameson. He is a fifth generation
cooper and I think oak sap may run in his veins. While I met a number
of incredibly dedicated crafts people on site, both at Jameson's
Midleton and Dublin's Old Jameson distilleries, Ger is, I think, a
Upon meeting Ger, I knew I was in for something special. His tools
have been handed down for generations. His knowledge and techniques
are steeped firmly in family and Jameson tradition. Working in an
identical manner to his forebears, Ger and his small team of coopers
are responsible for a full 50% of the taste and flavor that make
Jameson Irish Whiskey the world's best selling.
Over generations, whiskey producers have discovered that White Oak is
the wood for aging Irish whiskey. The casks from the United States,
with charred oak interiors used one time for the aging of Bourbon, add
a smooth and smokey flavor. The Sherry casks add a complexity and
floral bouquet. Ger and his team inspect every barrel and quickly
repair any leaks. As you can see in this time-lapse, Ger and Jameson
Brand Ambassador Mary Ann quickly disassemble a cask and replace a
stave, returning the barrel to service.
In the process, Ger showed us his hammer as well as one left to him by
a prior Jameson cooper. He then tapped the chime off the top of an
empty barrel and showed us the charred oak interior. Removing a
leaking stave, he demonstrated use of a "Horse," a sort of stand up
mandolin for shaping barrel staves.
He has compasses, sized for specific models of cask. Some are for the
Ferkin, a locally made cask that his ancestors would have constructed,
others for Bourbon casks made in America or Sherry casks from Spain.
He uses several Adz made specifically for coopering. His work table
has saws with grips specially offset to allow staves to be cut with a
graduated bevel to prevent leaks. Ger also uses "dogs" for holding
staves in place and double-handled knives for precise cutting. Every
tool appears hand forged and he sadly told us that replacements are
nearly impossible to find. These tools are stunningly beautiful.
While Jameson Irish whiskey takes a lot of its unique flavor from its
pot still distilling process and smoke-free air drying of grains, no
single element adds more than the casks. Many elements of production
have been automated and modernized, but the coopers still work in the
same workshop they have since the Old Midleton distillery opened in
1780, using the same tools and the same techniques. Tradition lives on in
men and women like Ger Buckley. Seeing his intense love of his trade
and Jameson's deep appreciation of his contribution gives me hope; Some
things are still best done by hand, by people who know what they are
doing and love doing it. Thanks to Ger, a lot of that goes into each
bottle of Jameson.