Join me in the workshop of one of the last master coopers left in England. The art of barrel making is a tradition being preserved in Burton-on-Trent at the Marston’s Brewery by cooper Mark Newton.
When Mark first started his apprenticeship at H & J Buckleys in Manchester, aged just 17, there were hundreds of coopers plying their trade across England. With aluminium casks offering a cheaper and speedier alternative to make and mass produce, coupled with the rising cost and dwindling availability of timber, a once thriving profession, dating back to Roman times, is in decline.
Nearly all of Mark’s time is now spent repairing the 260 oak ‘Union’ barrels at Marston’s in Burton-on-Trent. Each one holds 140 gallons of Pedigree, as well as an assortment of Marston’s ales.
Mark has also become a bit of a celebrity after his picture appeared on beer bottles and the company vehicles. On the day I visited to shoot for the Mail Plus iPad edition, Mark was waiting for a pop video to be filmed in his workshop !
Marston’s were founded in Burton-on-Trent in 1834, they moved to the Albion brewery in 1898. They have been there ever since, using the same brewing techniques. Burton was chosen because the water apparently gives the beer a unique underlying depth of flavour and character with crisp refreshing bitterness.
Marston’s Pedigree is the last beer still brewed using the unique Burton Union System where double rows of casks are mounted on a frame with a long trough running above to ferment the beer and generate yeast for brewing more later.
This expensive, complicated process, is the only reliable way to give Pedigree its unique taste. Unfortunately Marston’s is now the only brewery still brewing beer in the traditional way, but Burton-on-Trent remains an important commercial centre for the brewing and pub industry.