We are always being asked about barrels by customers who are most curious about them. So just how and why did we come to have the humble barrel?
Around 200AD the Roman Army were looking for a better way of transporting and storing their goods, clay pots (as above) were prone to breaking very easily. Not good for the Roman Army that relied on transporting goods all over Europe to support their troops.
Initially the very first traceable versions were little more than a wooden bucket as below with a wax sealed lid. The new “barrels” (that were an expansion of the wooden bucket as below) were very robust, air tight and easily and cheaply produced from wood. Accordingly, the new "barrel" became very popular and spread across Europe and by 300AD were a common sight across Europe.
Barrel making is a highly specialised trade and used two trades people to make the actual barrels. These were the Cooper who made the wooden aspect of the barrel and the hooper who made the binding rings that held the barrel together.
By the 7th Century in England the sight of a “Cooper” and a “Hooper” in English villages was very common. In fact until about a century ago all villages in England had a Cooper who would make barrels, buckets, tubs, butter churns and many other wooden items for the village folk.
Interestingly, traditionally a Cooper made the wooden aspects of the barrel whilst a Hooper was the man who fitted the hoops around the barrels or buckets that the cooper had made, essentially an assistant to the cooper. The English name Cooper and Hooper are derived from these professions.
The French Oak barrels that we hire were made in the traditional way, raised over an open fire and coopered and hoopered exactly as they would have been done 1800 years ago. you can see how they are made in 1954 here and here is a modern day version.
Barrels come in all different sizes and shapes. We use the 225 ltr (49 Gallons) "Bordeaux" type barrel made from French White Oak (Quercus Petraea). However they can also be made of French Common Oak (Quercus Robur).
French white Oak is used as it is tighter grained than the American White Oak (Quercus Alba) and as such releases its flavours into the wine that is made in them more slowly.
But you can also commonly see Burgundy barrels of 228ltr (50 Gallons) or Cognac 300ltr (66 Gallons).
The Modern Way Barrels Are Marked
The Anatomy of A Barrel
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