The barrel has been used for storage of goods as early as 2690 BC. The unique strength, durability and mobility of a cask made it the cornerstone of all settlements. Coopers were among the earliest European craftsmen to arrive in New England. In Maine, cooperages worked in large scale well into the 1960’s. Knox barrel company, with operations in Rockland, produced casks for fish packing along side the fishing fleets and mongers on the piers. Hamlen Co. of Portland made over 300,000 barrels annually. It would take over 4000 years of technological advancement before the barrel would be replaced by the steel oil drum and cardboard boxing of the 20th century. While coopering is a vanishing craft, the resurgence of craft distilling and micro brewing, as well as the enduring art of wine making has provided a small niche market for the oak barrel.
Ed Lutjens is the founder of Portland Barrel Company, and makes new barrels from locally sourced white oak, for the aging of spirits.