MEMBER PROFILE: FREDDIE MAIN
The Cask Creative
A creative spirit was given an inspired outlet when Freddie Main was forced to re-evaluate his work-life balance, with the beauty of old whisky casks playing a key role, as Madeleine Schmoll reports
Freddie Main, ready to bring another cask back to life
For Oak & Black owner and SMWS member Freddie Main, the desire to be creative has always been strong. “I’ve always made stuff – even as a kid,” says Freddie.
“For my seventh birthday I asked for tools and made our chicken shed into a workshop. I made treehouses, go carts – anything.” It wasn’t until last year, however, when he decided to turn that creative impulse into a job, a drive that came from somewhere else entirely. “In May 2019 I came back from Malaysia, where I’d played for Scotland in the Touch Rugby World Cup, and three weeks later I was ill,” says Freddie.
“I had what I thought was a bad flu but my energy never returned. It turned out I had post-viral fatigue and I’m still recovering from that.”
Returning to his work both as a teacher, and as a rugby coach, was slow progress with setbacks whenever he tried to take on too much. And just as he started to feel better, there was the small matter of a global pandemic. “My energy started to pick up when lockdown started,” he says. “I was in the back garden and I’d been meaning to make a barrel bar for a couple of years – I’d planned to do it the Christmas before but didn’t quite have the energy so I decided to make it as my friend wanted one and then I made a few more.”
Just over a year later, Oak & Black is a full-time venture, making barrel bars, bottle racks, wall hangers, whisky boards for drams, gin blocks (for chopping lemons and limes) and anything else the customer might imagine – all of it made from ex-whisky casks and other reclaimed materials.
At the forefront is Freddie’s ethos: kindness, creativity and sustainability – a thread that runs through every aspect of the business.
“Being kind to others but also to yourself – it’s something we’re not always particularly good at,” he says. “Each Oak & Black creation begins with your kind thought. If you’ve bought our product, you’re showing kindness, either by thinking of someone or as a treat for yourself.” With a background in design technology education, the teacher in Freddie is eager to involve customers in the Oak & Black design process. “Creativity is something I’ve always encouraged,” he says.
“People will say: ‘Oh I’m not very good with my hands’. That doesn’t matter. You can do something that is creative without being good with your hands…people can really play a massive part in the design process through the bespoke products I make.”
Equally, there’s a focus on sustainability that’s visible in his use of whisky casks and other reclaimed materials.
“I love the idea of tying it back to the whisky, giving it a new lease of life. It’s held the whisky once and now as a barrel bar it can hold the whisky again, but the whole bottle,” says Freddie.
And as with whisky, Freddie’s work is all about the details – both the passion for the final product and, perhaps more importantly, the patience required to get there. Freddie hand-picks each cask direct from the cooperage and often ends up chatting to the cooper about the decisions that lead to different cask types and finishes. “Whisky is high end, it’s quality – it takes time and it’s not something you just turn around,” he says. “People appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into whisky and I wanted to mirror that in the products that accompany the whisky – there’s no better compliment than using the materials from the barrels.”