Though many distillers have recently implemented newfangled techniques and experiments to beef up their portfolios, barrel aging has been a constant for centuries. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the practice started to catch on, but some theories suggest that when merchants started shipping whiskeys, wines, and brandies over long distances, the folks on the receiving end found that the barrels’ influence added pleasant flavors to the liquids within. Regardless of when the eureka moment hit, we now know there’s much more skill and science to barrel aging than just letting spirits sit.

The barrel’s size, what it previously held (if anything), the type of wood it’s made from, and the climate surrounding it are just a few of the factors that affect its potential influence. The many barrel types employed by the industry at large add even more complexity to the aging process. Hogsheads, sherry butts, port pipes — the myriad terms that adorn booze labels can be head-spinning, even for the educated consumer. That’s why we’ve done the heavy lifting and broken down the many different types and sizes of the common casks used for booze maturation.

Here, all the casks types you should know.

Visual Guide to Spirit Cask Types and Sizes [Infographic]

The Cask Type and Size Guide

Cask size and shape can vary from country to country, and differ depending on what type of liquid they’re storing. It’s also worth noting that the terms “cask” and “barrel” are pretty much synonymous, and their difference mainly lies in terminology: In the U.S., barrel is the go-to term, but overseas, cask functions as a catch-all word for any wooden container used for aging spirits. All barrels are casks, but not all casks are barrels.

To simplify and streamline, we disregarded cask sizes specific to the beer world like Pins, Firkins, and British Brewery barrels and honed in solely on those used for aging spirits and wine. For the sizes that don’t adhere to a standardized capacity, we’ve included the general range of volume they fall under.

Blood Tub (30-50L)

Given their small size, blood tubs were once a popular way to transport casks on horseback. These days, however, you’ll almost never encounter a blood tub in use at a commercial distillery, as they max out at roughly 13 gallons. That said, they’re still occasionally sold to customers who want their own personal cask of their go-to spirit at home.

Quarter Cask (125L)

One of the most straightforward monikers in the cask gamut is the quarter cask, which is a quarter of the size of a standard sherry butt — a popular cask for sherry maturation and Scotch finishing. Sometimes, though, the terminology gets a bit messy: The term is occasionally (and somewhat incorrectly) used to refer to a quarter of an American Standard Barrel, which equates to just 50 liters. (The more accepted, specific name for an eighth of a sherry butt is an octave.) Quarter casks are often used to finish a spirit after its initial aging. As their compact size ensures that the liquid within gets up close and personal with the cask’s wood, the barrel influence sets in quickly and intensely. It’s easier to get quick results, but also easier to screw up.

American Standard Barrel (200L)

This barrel size actually comes with a standard: 200 liters, or roughly 53 gallons. American Standard Barrels are used by distillers and winemakers worldwide, but since they’re most often used to age bourbon, they’re commonly referred to simply as bourbon barrels. By law, bourbon must be aged for a minimum of two years in new, charred oak barrels. After that first use, the barrels are sent to breweries, wineries, and other distilleries to age or finish other liquids. More often than not, the bulk of ex-bourbon barrels go to Scotland for use in Scotch maturation.

Barrique (225L)

In a quick departure from the spirits realm, we turn our focus to the barrique, the most common barrel for storing wine. This cask originated in Bordeaux, and the name literally translates to “barrel” in English. When built to hold wine, they clock in at a capacity of 225 liters, but those made to age Cognac can be as large as 300 liters. Shape-wise, barriques are slightly elongated. Many Scottish distillers have also adopted these casks for aging and finishing their Scotches.

Hogshead (225-250L)

The origins of this vessel’s unique name are a bit murky, but one somewhat promising theory proposes that it came from an adaptation of the word oxhuvud (Swedish for both “the head of an ox” and “a barrel”). Hogshead casks are similar in capacity to barriques, but run a tad shorter and wider. They were also traditionally used for wine and ale storage, but are now a go-to aging vessel for — you guessed it — Scotch producers. Hogsheads are actually made from reconstructed bourbon and sherry barrels: distillers import the original barrels, break them down into staves, and use those to build slightly larger casks. On average, five American Standard Barrels will yield four hogsheads, but that depends on whether the hogsheads are 225 liters or 250 liters. Though making them is laborious, hogsheads allow distillers to be more space-efficient and mature their spirits for longer periods without letting that oak influence run wild.

Sherry Butt (475-600L)

Sherry butts are tall, slender, and typically hover around 500 liters in volume, but it’s not uncommon to see some as large as 600 liters. Due to their size, wood-to-spirit interaction is minimal, making prolonged maturation welcome. For many distillers — particularly those in Scotland — sherry butts are in high demand for their nuanced fruit-forward qualities, leading distilleries to often loan unused casks to sherry producers to be seasoned.

Port Pipe (450-650L)

As their name entails, port pipes are the standard vessel for aging port wine. They’re constructed with thick staves of European oak, vary from 450 to 650 liters in size, and are even taller and slimmer than sherry butts — even if they’re the same capacity. Much like sherry butts, these casks first made their way to the U.K. via the wine trade, and are thus commonly used in whisky production.

Madeira Drum (650L)

Yet another cask that gets right to the point with its title: the Madeira drum. Like port pipes, these barrels are made with thick European oak staves, but are instead used to age the island of Madeira’s namesake fortified wine. They’re short, squat, and aptly drum-shaped. Madeira casks are also a popular choice for finishing spirits after their initial aging period is complete.

Puncheon (500-700L)

Puncheons can range in volume from 500 to 700 liters, but those on the smallest end of the spectrum are much more common. Some are made with American oak staves and primarily used for aging rum. Others are made with slightly thinner staves of European oak and are a common choice for sherry maturation and whisky finishing. Craft breweries have also adopted puncheons for aging saisons and farmhouse-style ales. Puncheons are short and wide with dimensions akin to that of a Madeira drum.

Gorda (700L)

As we up the capacity and enter the big leagues, we encounter the Gorda cask. Given their immense size, Gordas are commonly used for vatting, or blending multiple spirits from the same distillery. These casks are made from American oak and chiefly used by American distillers. Since the maximum cask size permitted for aging Scotch is exactly 700 liters, Scottish distillers shy away from employing Gordas in their production.

Tun (950-1,000L)

The juggernaut of casks, the English tun, is more common for wine storage than housing liquor. The most famous (and largest) tun is Germany’s Heidelberg Tun: Built in 1751, it has a jaw-dropping capacity of 219,000 liters, but over the years, it’s functioned as more of a tourist attraction than a practical storage vessel. These days, some distilleries use tuns, but only to blend spirits on a large scale.

*Image retrieved from Martin M303 via