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.
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
20.5 liters/5 gallons
40 liters/11 gallons
50 liters/13 gallons
68 liters/18 gallons
82 liters/22 gallons
159 liters/42 gallons
200 liters/53 gallons
225-250 liters/59-66 gallons
Barrique (wine barrels)
225 liters/59 gallons to 300 liters/79 gallons
476 liters/126 gallons
650 liters/172 gallons
700 liters/185 gallons
982 liters/259 gallons
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...