March 06, 2019

THE FINE ART AND CRAFT OF COOPERAGE:
WHERE IT BEGINS


Michelangelo famously said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

Within this timber, harvested from a sustainably managed woodlot in Eastern Ontario, are barrels waiting to be set free by Spring Mill Distillery’s Master Cooper, Peter Bradford. While Pete would reject that his work be compared to that of a great Italian master, there is a genuine art to the craft of cooperage. The barrel making process has survived for centuries with very few changes and it all begins with the selection of the wood.

When the forest manager fells trees, Pete visits the woodlot to select the best. This selection determines the quality of the finished product.

The wood, most often oak, although Spring Mill Distillery will also experiment with hickory, ash, maple and cherry, is examined before and after cutting, and Pete’s selections are based on many criteria, including tree shape and growing conditions. These factors determine the textural variety of wood fibres, the fineness of its grain and its tannin content. Tight grain and fine tannin content are found in the best wood.

The logs must be hand split to preserve wood grain without breaking wood veins, which is essential for creating barrels that won’t leak. The log is first split in two, then into quarters to obtain wood for the staves. After splitting and planing, the stave wood is stored outside to be naturally aged by the weather for several years.

It’s not until the wood has cured to the ideal state that Pete begins to build the barrels.