What is In A Barrel?- Its Parts

What’s In A Barrel?

What is In A Barrel? A barrel is a wooden cylindrical container that is bulging in the center and hollow from within.

Are you looking to get a wooden barrel to store some wine? You should know a few facts about it first.

What is it?

A barrel is a wooden cylindrical container that is bulging in the center and hollow from within.


The primary parts of a barrel are :

  • Head – the circular top and bottom parts of the barrel.
  • Bilge – the widest part around the center of the barrel.
  • Stave – the narrow strips of wood found along the sides of a barrel.
  • Hoops – the metal sections that hold the staves together around the barrel.
  • Chime – the beveled edges of the barrel.
  • Bung Hole: the hole located in one of the barrel’s staves that are used for filling up and emptying the barrel.
  • Bung: The stopper used to close the Bung Hole.

Who put wine in it?

The first people to use barrels for storing wines were Romans. After they conquered Gaul (present-day France), they saw people there carrying beer in wooden barrels and borrowed the idea to store the drink they loved – wine, which they stored in breakable clay amphorae till then.

Who makes them? 

A cooper assembles or makes a barrel. And a cooper’s workshop is unsurprisingly called a cooperage.

Oak Barrels

The most widely used wood for making barrels is oak because, in an oak barrel, the wine has a series of chemical reactions with the barrel itself. Oak also leads to more oxygenation in the wine. This makes the wine more mature, full-bodied and gives it a more intense and complex flavor. It also enhances the color of the wine. 

Different kinds of Oak Barrels

The most popularly used varieties of oak barrels are – French, Hungarian, Spanish, and American. French oaks tend to give the wine a more subtle taste, while the American white oak gives a strong aroma to the wine.

Japanese Cedar Barrels

Japanese cedar barrels are used specifically for producing different varieties of Japanese rice wine Sake.

Barrel vs. Barrique

Barrels are called Barrique in French. Germans and Italians have now also adopted the term.

Wine Barrel Sizes

There are different sizes and kinds of barrels around the world, and they are used for storing many kinds of alcohol. But only some are used for storing wine. Here are the most popular ones –

Barrique (Full Barrel) – 225 Litres / 59 US Gallons for wine OR 300 Litres / 79 US Gallons for Cognac – It is the barrel generally used for storing cognac and old French wine.

Demi Barrique (Half Barrel) – 112 Litres / 30 US Gallons – This barrel derives it’s named from being half the size of Barrique and is used for the same purposes.

Bourguigone – 228 Litres / 60 US Gallons – These are used by winemakers in the Burgundy region in eastern France.

Bordelaise – 225 Litres / 59.5 US Gallons – These are used for aging wine made in the Bordeaux region of southwest France.

Tierce – 160 Litres / 42 US Gallons – Similar in volume to a British Barrel, which is used for storing ales, these are differentiated by the fact that they are used to store wine and rum.

Rundlet – 70 Litres / 18 US Gallons – These are about half the size of a British Barrel, but unlike them, are used for storing wine.

Demi-Muid – 600 Litres / 158.5 US Gallons – These big oak barrels are primarily used in the Rhône Valley.

Drum – 650 Litres / 172 US Gallons – Short and round like drums; these gigantic barrels are mostly used to store Madeira wines.

Pipe – 650 Litres / 172 US Gallons – The same volume as a drum, these barrels are rounder in shape and are used for storing port wine.

Hogshead – 250 to 300 Litres / 66 to 79 US Gallons – Commonly used for maturing Irish and Scotch whiskies, these are also sometimes used to store wine. They are often rebuilt ASB barrels that have already been used for aging American whiskies. 

Barrel Sizes For Other Alcoholic Beverage

Barrels are also used for storing other kinds of alcohol. The most popular amongst these are –

Cognac – 300 Litres / 79 US Gallons – These are used for storing Cognac, a kind of brandy from the commune of Cognac in southwestern France.

American Standard Barrel (ASB) – 200 Litres / 54 US Gallons – This is the standard size of barrels used for maturing whiskies in the US. These barrels are then reused around the world for aging a variety of alcohol.

Quarter Cask – 50 Litres / 13 US Gallons – As the name suggests, it’s a quarter of the size of an ASB barrel, giving a richer oak touch. Both American and Scotch whiskey makers use these. 

British Barrel – 160 Litres / 43 US Gallons – About half the size of Hogshead barrels, these are generally used to store lager or ale.

Firkin – 41 Litres / 11 US Gallons – Roughly a fourth in size of a standard British Barrel, these are mostly used for preserving ale.

Puncheon – 450 Litres / 120 US Gallons – Used for storing both sherry and rum. The primary difference between the two kinds of Puncheon barrels is their shape. The ones for stocking sherry are taller and slimmer, while the ones used for rum are thicker and shorter.

Butt – 500 Litres / 132 US Gallons – These big barrels are generally used for storing sherry.

Gorda – 700 Litres / 185 US Gallons – These big barrels are used in the USA and Canada for vatting and merging whiskies.

Tun – 982 Litres / 250 US Gallons – These are used for mixing different kinds of alcohol and fermenting beer. The word Tun was initially used to denote the amount of space it would take up in a ship and not its weight.


The dimension of a wine barrel depends on its type.

A Standard Bordeaux Chateau Barrel has the following dimensions :

Volume – 225 Litres / 60 US Gallons

Length – 95 cm / 37.4 inches

Bung Hole Diameter – 50 mm (2 inches)

Thickness – 27 mm / 2 inches

Weight when Empty – 50 kg / 110 pounds

Weight when Full – 275 kg  / 600 pounds

What is In A Barrel?- Its Parts

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