South Baltic Gas Forum
5 - 9 September 2011, Gdańsk, Poland


A barrel, cask, or tun is a hollow cylindrical container, traditionally made of wooden staves bound by wooden or metal hoops. Traditionally, the barrel was a standard size of measure referring to a set capacity or weight of a given commodity. For example, in the UK a barrel of beer refers to a quantity of 36 imperial gallons (160 L; 43 US gal). Wine was shipped in barrels of 119 litres (31 US gal; 26 imp gal).
Someone who makes barrels is called a "barrel maker" or cooper. Barrels are only one type of cooperage. Other types include, but are not limited to: buckets, tubs, butter churns, hogsheads, firkins, kegs, kilderkins, tierces, rundlets, puncheons, pipes, tuns, butts, pins, and breakers.
Beverages aged in wooden barrels take on some of the compounds in the barrel, such as vanillin and wood tannins. The presence of these compounds depends on many factors, including the place of origin, how the staves were cut and dried, and the degree of "toast" applied during manufacture. Barrels used for aging are typically made of French or American oak, but chestnut and redwood are also used. Some Asian beverages (e.g., Japanese sake) use Japanese cedar, which imparts an unusual, minty-piney flavor. In Peru and Chile, a grape distillate named pisco is either aged in oak or in earthenware.
Since the U.S. law requires the use of new barrels for several popular types of whiskey, which is not typically considered necessary elsewhere, whiskey made elsewhere is usually aged in used barrels that previously contained American whiskey (usually bourbon whiskey). The typical bourbon barrel is 53 US gallons (200 l; 44 imp gal) in size, which is thus the de facto standard whiskey barrel size worldwide. Some distillers transfer their whiskey into different barrels to "finish" or add qualities to the final product. These finishing barrels frequently aged a different spirit (such as rum) or wine. Other distillers, particularly those producing Scotch, often disassemble five used bourbon barrels and reassemble them into four casks with different barrel ends for aging Scotch, creating a type of cask referred to as a hogshead.
Beers are sometimes aged in barrels which were previously used for maturing wines or spirits. This is most common in darker beers such as stout, which is sometimes aged in oak barrels identical to those used for whiskey. Whisky distiller Jameson notably purchases barrels used by Franciscan Well brewery for their Shandon Stout to produce a whisky branded as "Jameson Caskmates". Cask ale is aged in the barrel (usually steel) for a short time before serving. Extensive barrel aging is required of many sour beers.

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