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A Guide to Whiskey Cask Sizes

If you thought the U.S. system of measurement was confusing, strap in, because casks take that confusion to a whole new level.

Wooden casks have long been an essential component of international commerce, used to quite literally blend cultures together. That means some cask sizes are defined in terms of the U.S. gallon, while others are defined in terms of the Imperial gallon (the unit used in Britain).

Here in the United States, we use the term “barrel” to refer to those wooden containers that hold our whiskey. It’s a common misnomer. While much of our whiskey is, in fact, stored in barrels, the word “barrel” actually refers to a cask that holds about 53 U.S. gallons. Those “small barrels” craft producers talk so much about? They’re actually pins, firkins, quarter casks, or kilderkins.

Bowmore casks
Some of the casks at Bowmore (image via Bowmore)

To make matters more confusing, casks of the same size can vary a bit in capacity (they are handmade, after all). Plus, casks can be disassembled and then reassembled into a cask of a different size. That’s how the Scotch industry makes hogsheads, after all: they receive disassembled bourbon barrels and reassemble the staves into something slightly larger.

Casks come in a dizzying array of sizes. Below is a comprehensive list of all the different sizes of cask used in the whiskey industry, ranked in order of volume. While researching this, I noticed that there was surprisingly little agreement on the volume of many sizes, with some sources flatly contradicting one another. I’ve done my best here, but if you’ve spotted an error, or if you notice I’ve left something out, leave a comment!

Note: all gallons below refer to U.S. gallons

Pin

20.5 liters/5 gallons

Firkin

40 liters/11 gallons

Quarter cask

50 liters/13 gallons

Rundlet

68 liters/18 gallons

Kilderkin

82 liters/22 gallons

Tierce

159 liters/42 gallons

Barrel

200 liters/53 gallons

Hogshead

225-250 liters/59-66 gallons

Barrique (wine barrels)

225 liters/59 gallons to 300 liters/79 gallons

Butt/Puncheon

476 liters/126 gallons

Pipe

650 liters/172 gallons

Gorda

700 liters/185 gallons

Tun

982 liters/259 gallons

Margarett Waterbury

Margarett Waterbury is the author of Scotch: A Complete Introduction to Scotland's Whiskies and a full-time freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Whisky Advocate, Food and Wine, Spirited Magazine, Artisan Spirit, Edible Seattle, Sip Northwest, Civil Eats, Travel Oregon, Artisan Spirit, and many other publications. She is the former managing editor of Edible Portland, as well as a cofounder and former managing editor of The Whiskey Wash. In 2017, Margarett won the Alan Lodge Young Drinks Writer of the Year award. She received a fellowship for the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers in 2017 and 2019.

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