Rolling out the barrel: O'Mahony first cooper in 40 years at Midleton Distillery

His skills in an ancient craft have helped him restore a family link with one of Ireland’s largest distilleries.

Rolling out the barrel: O'Mahony first cooper in 40 years at Midleton Distillery

His skills in an ancient craft have helped him restore a family link with one of Ireland’s largest distilleries.

Killian O’Mahony, 26, is the first newly qualified cooper appointed by Irish Distillers to its Midleton Distillery in Cork in 40 years.

Killian, who completed a four-year apprenticeship under master cooper Ger Buckley, said he is delighted to follow in the footsteps of his great great grandfather, Batt Ahern, who was the distillery’s blacksmith almost a century ago.

“I come from a long line of craftsmen, so working with my hands is in my blood,” he said. “It has been a privilege to learn the craft of cooper-ing around the world. There is more heritage in this place than someone could read in a lifetime.”

His key responsibility will be to maintain the distillery’s stock of some 1.5m wooden casks.

Killian’s great great grandfather, Batt Ahern was the distillery’s blacksmith almost a century ago. Picture: Cathal Noonan
Killian’s great great grandfather, Batt Ahern was the distillery’s blacksmith almost a century ago. Picture: Cathal Noonan

Batt Ahern worked in the distillery’s forge from the 1910s to the early 1930s, shoeing horses and making equipment for the coopers. His assistant was Mr Buckley’s granduncle, Daniel.

Cooper are central to the production of Irish whiskey, with wooden casks influencing up to 60% of the liquid’s quality and playing a key role in the maturation, aroma and flavour of the final product.

“It’s a very specialised skill that has remained largely unchanged for thousands of years and has been passed down through generations,” Killian said.

"The simplicity is the beauty. But you have to understand the grain of the wood, how the wood reacts, how it takes the heat, the rhythm

of it. For me, it’s all about sustainability. The tree can be growing for up to 100 years before we can harvest it. I want to do such a good job repairing our barrels, that they can last another 100 years so another tree has grown and been harvested at the end of that barrel’s lifetime.”

Irish whiskey is the fastest-growing premium spirit globally, with Jameson in top spot. Its sales have risen from 500,000 cases in 1996 to 7.3m cases last year. There were four Irish whiskey distilleries in Ireland in 2013. Now that number has risen to 23.

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