Master Cooper Ger Buckley Breaks Down the Art of Barrel-Making

photo by Cara Howe

“If you really want to taste your beer, chew it.” A curious assignment for a liquid, but we trusted KelSo brewmaster Kelly Taylor’s advice, as he stood in front of a rapt audience of flannel-clad Brooklynites Friday night. We were all there to sample the limited edition KelSo IPA, aged for two months in Jameson whiskey barrels.

As the assembled group of beer enthusiasts and revelers watched a video on the beautiful bro-mance that blossomed between Jameson’s master of whiskey science Dave Quinn, and Kelly Taylor, resulting in the smooth and complex brew we were all holding in our hands.

The beer itself was an intriguingly complex experience, the perfect marriage of a smooth-drinking whiskey and a well-balanced IPA.  On first sip, the beer is floral and hoppy, but the longer you hold it in your mouth, a hint of smoky caramel hits in the back of the throat. The barrels left their mark in the finish, with a pleasant hint of char, like a toasted marshmallow charred on the outside, but smoky sweet on the inside.

After Kelly finished leading the group through how to properly taste a beer, the star of the evening came out — Ger Buckley, fifth generation master cooper walked us through the hows and whys of barrel-making, concluding with a demo that blew us away.

Buckley is a fifth-generation master cooper, someone with a true love for his craft. “If I wasn’t working with Jameson, I don’t know what I’d be doing,” he told us. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

For a crowd already feeling a little loose from the free-flowing whiskey and beer samples, Buckley’s barrel-making demo was just the thing. Using tools as time-honored as the tradition itself, Buckley showed an attentive crowd how to break down a barrel, and make quick work of reassembling it, too. With a great banging and clanging, he made quick work of the barrel, breaking it down and reassembling it within minutes.

 “It looks easy,” a woman whispered to her boyfriend, an arm draped over his shoulder. “We should quit our jobs and make barrels.” As Buckley grinned and whiped his char-blackened hands on his pants, presenting his finished product, the room exploded in applause. Buckley’s smile widened, a perfect representation of a man passionate about his livelihood, doing what he loves.