A Barrel is a Cask but not all Cask are Barrels

A barrel is a cask but not all cask are barrels. Many people tend to characterize all wooden cask as barrels, but a ‘barrel’ is actually a particular size and shape of cask. Clarified below.

There are various factors that determine what the “water of life” taste like in our glass. The water, grain, yeast, skill of the master blender, distillation process, use of (or lack of) peat, length of time laying in the cask, temperature, vicinity to the ocean, etc. However, one of the more important, if not the most important is the type of cask that is selected for the aging process. I’ve seen estimates anywhere from 50-80% of the whisky’s overall flavor derives from the cask. The type (and quality) of cask brings forth the many nuances we experience on our palate. I am sure at some point you have read the label on a whisky bottle or box (if not I encourage you to) where it can state “aged in Port Pipes”. Or “Finished in Sherry Cask”. Or “Aged in a Hogshead and Sherry Butts. Hogshead? Butts? Pipes? What does all this mean, and should it matter to me? To answer the latter part of that question...it absolutely matters as understanding what your whisky is aged in (cask) helps you to fine-tune what you may like or not be a fan of. To address the 1st part of that question and the focus of this article we will explore the many cask (probably not all) centering on the size used along with the previous liquid that laid in the cask which gives way to the distinct flavors we experience on our tongue. Let’s go...

Size matters. The smaller the cask the more surface area is imparted onto the liquid resting within which in essence can facilitate the exchange of flavors from the cask and expedite maturation. This does not necessarily mean better...just different. See below for a listing of various cask and volumes (note there are no ISO standard that defines actual volume, (so stated # can vary)) used in scotch production.

Name Gallon
American Standard Barrel/Bourbon Barrel 53
Butt 132
Quarter Cask 33
Standard Hogshead 63
Puncheon 85
Madeira Drum 172
Port Pipe 132
Sherry Hogshead 245
Cognac 300
Bordeaux 225
Barrique 59

*Chart adapted from whisky.com


Most casks are not a virgin. Before we jump into the influence of the cask that held a prior liquid...what about a cask that is a virgin? Pretty much the exception in scotch production “Virgin” oak while utilized tends not to be the go-to. However, as time goes by distillers are experimenting more and more and we are witnessing the utilization increase. Full Virgin Oak (Octomore 7.4), Virgin Oak Finished (Deanston Virgin Oak) and Blended with Virgin Oak (Ardbeg Kelpie) are all examples.

The prominent cask currently utilized in scotch aging is the bourbon barrel. As you may know by definition bourbon can only be made in new oak barrels so once used in the US many of these barrels are transported to Scotland. The below severs to provide some direction of what you can expect from your scotch being aged in stated cask. Everyone’s taste buds are unique and some more sensitive than others. “One man’s poison is another man's meat”.  Whatever your preference WoW has a hand-blown whisky glass for you. 

Elevate your whisky experience with a handcrafted sipping vessel by visiting https://wonderswhisky.com/ . Cheers.

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Previous Liquid Expected Flavors Whisky Examples
Bourbon Vanilla, sweetness, caramel, creamy Glenfiddich 19 Year Bourbon Cask Reserve Single Malt
Burgundy Very fruity, lightly sweet Tullibardine 228 Burgundy Cask Finish
Madeira Spicy light fruit, sweet The Balvenie Madeira Cask (finished)
Port Spicy, dried fruit, sweet Dalmore Port Wood Reserve (finished)
Oloroso Deep, dark, nutty, ripe fruits Aberlour 18 (Bourbon and Sherry)
Pedro Ximenez (PX) Very Sweet, dark fruits, syrup Lagavulin Distillers Edition (finished)
Fino Light fruits, sweet, light wood Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask (finished)
Manzanilla Salty, sea flavors, fresh, some fruit Tobermory 21 Manzanilla Finish
Amontillado Sweet, nutty, fresh, acid Kavalan Amontillado Cask (finished)
Sauternes Sweet, zest, light fruits Arran Sauternes Finish
Bordeaux Strong red fruits, grapes Deanston Bordeaux Red Wine Cask
Tokaji Light fresh fruits (citrus, mango), very sweet Arran Tokaji Cask Finished
Barolo Dried fruits, tannins, heavy aromas Hazelburn 9 years old Barolo Cask Matured
Rum Sweet, tropical fruit, vanilla, molasses Balvenie 14 Caribbean Cask (finished)
Amarone Ripe fruit, tannins, raisins Arran Amarone Cask Finish
Marsala Sweet, complex, spices Ledaig 19 Marsala Cask Finish

*Chart adapted from whisky.com

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