A Bushmills man has become the first person on the island of Ireland to graduate as a cooper in more than 30 years.
Chris Kane, who hails from the village, 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 began work at home with his father, Alastair, at the age of nine and today they keep this tradition alive side-by-side in the cooperage.
It normally takes five years to learn this highly skilled trade. Testament to his talent and determination, Chris took only four years to master it, using the same tools that his great grandfather wielded over 80 years ago.
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.”
Today, coopering, as is symptomatic of many manual trades, is a dying art. As industries become increasingly mechanised, the need for hand-craftsmanship becomes less and less relevant.
Helen Mulholland, Master Blender of Bushmills Irish Whiskey, said: “We are delighted to share in Chris’s success as he becomes a fully-fledged Cooper today. His family has been an integral part of Bushmills’s legacy for the past 140 years. He is a true artist, born to his craft, as the skill and attention that is required to cooper is nothing short of spectacular.
“Coopering is fundamental to our Irish Whiskey making process; to ensure we produce the same premium quality whiskey that we began making 400 years ago. With up to 80% of the character of our whiskey coming from the cask, our coopers are true guardians of Bushmills Irish Whiskey.”