History Byte – Coopering

Copland Brewing & Co. cask. Toronto, 1883-1888. Collection of Black Creek Pioneer Village

At Black Creek we have a little cooperage building located next to our Mill.  Primarily charged with coopering barrels to hold flour, it’s likely our brewery would have had to find a more specialized wet cooper to build it’s barrels.  Coopering beer casks was one of the most difficult tasks a cooper faced.  The interior of the barrels had to be absolutely smooth to make sterilization easier and to prevent bacteria from growing and contaminating the beer.  Oak was the favoured timber as it is strong enough to withstand the pressure of the fermenting beer.  In the 19th century, most casks were pompeyed, that is charred inside to seal the grain of the wood and allow the beer to mature more effectively.  Many coopers went one step further and coated the inside of their beer casks with coal or tar pitch to simplify cleaning and assure that no liquid or air could get in or out (more on pitching in a later post)!  With the advent of steam power, the chore of washing and sterilizing the casks between brews was simplified.  The exhaust steam from the engine was reused to heat water to wash and sterilize the casks.  They were then quickly moved to the fermenting room where they were filled and bunged before bacteria from the air had a chance to take root in the clean casks.    

 Black Creek Historic Brewery uses a set of eight oak casks that need to be emptied and completely sterilized after each use.  It’s a lot of work, but well worth it for the flavor that ageing in wood provides the beer.  It is also interesting to note, that unlike steel casks, the temperature inside the bunged barrels stays remarkably steady, despite changes in the room temperature.

In the next post – Pitching that doesn’t involve a ball…


3 thoughts on “History Byte – Coopering

  1. I’d like to see a detailed post on how one would cooper a barrel this day and age, like what tools and what not.

    1. Hi S., I’ve just posted a brief reply to your question on modern coopering here. I’ll be posting about some of the tools of the trade next week. Though it will reference tools we use here at Black Creek Pioneer Village, you will notice modern coopers using the same tools in the videos I posted!

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