A cooper is a craftsman who makes barrels and casks out of wood.
Cooperage has a long, consistent history in Europe, and the art of barrel making was a skilled profession with its own league of craftsmen in the Middle Ages. In ancient times wooden barrels were essential for the storage and transportation of most commodities – from vegetables to wines and spirits. This lasted well into the last century, when steel barrels and plastic ones gradually superseded the traditional wooden barrels.
In central and southern Europe the traditional cooperage skills still exist, with the wine and spirits industry being the major user of barrels.
Barrels and large casks are mainly used now for giving taste and body to both wine and spirits. For certain types of spirit, e.g. aquavit, whisky and cognac, maturing in barrels is an essential part of the production process.