Whiskey and Bourbon are all kept within barrels or casks in order to age the liquor. In the US, we mainly store Bourbon in barrels, and this usually adheres to the same measurements of whiskey and cask – although the drinks are different and also subject to different laws and bodies.
In any case, to understand how many bottles of liquid are in a barrel will depend on what size bottles you mean, and also what type of cask or barrel you are referring to.
Barrels and cask size will often change depending on the liquid it holds. In the US the most common bottle size for bourbon is 75cl, so we will use that as a standard.
Read on to learn about different types of cask and barrel as well as how many bottles they can hold.
What Are Some Common Casks And Barrels?
For Scotch whiskey made according to Scotch law, they are often matured in the American standard barrel. These barrels are also the common vessel to age bourbon as well.
Oftentimes, the same barrel used to age bourbon is commonly used again to mature Scotch whiskey.
The hogshead barrel is also used to mature Scotch whiskey. The hogshead barrel is much larger than your common cask or barrel.
Other casks may also be used to ‘finish’ the whiskey after maturing, but this can change by distillery and region.
How Many Bottles Are There In Each Type Of Barrel?
In the following section I will run through each different barrel and cask size and type and how many bottles per cask or barrel there may be.
The quarter cask is one of the smallest cask and barrel sizes out there. The quarter cask holds around 45-50 liters of liquid. This means that the cask can hold around 66 75cl bottles
Quarter casks are often used to mature small batches of whiskey but are most often used to finish Scotch whiskey. The small size of the cask can mature whiskey and bourbon quickly when necessary.
American Standard Barrel
The American Standard Barrel, commonly referred to simply as a barrel, is a common cask or barrel in America. The American Standard Barrel holds around 190-200 liters and can potentially yield around 253-266 75cl bottles.
The American Standard Cask is the most commonly used to mature bourbon. Often, when the casks have been used to mature bourbon, they are sent to Scotland to be used to mature the Scotch whiskey there. The flavors are complementary and impart their flavor into the Scotch whiskey.
The hogshead cask is one of the larger and also most common casks to mature Scotch whiskey. A hogshead cask can hold around 225-250 liters of liquid, this means that around 333 75cl bottles can be yielded from the cask.
One fun fact is that hogshead casks are often made from the American Standard Barrel but more staves are added to make it wider and higher in volume. Hogshead casks are meant to mature large amounts of whiskey at one on a commercial scale.
The next biggest cask size after the hogshead cask is the barrique cask. Commonly, this is used in the wine industry, but whiskey and bourbon distillers can sometimes use these larger casks in a commercial context.
A barrique cask can hold 250-300 liters, which is a lot, this can yield around 333-400 75cl.
The Puncheon is another larger cask used in commercial settings. A fresh puncheon cask is often used to mature sherry and rum and other liquors which are then passed onto the whiskey industry to mature whiskey in.
A puncheon cask can hold around 450-500 liters of volume, and they can yield around 381-400 75cl bottles.
The port pipe is even larger than the others. The port pipe isn’t used to mature whiskey, it is instead used to finish large volumes of whiskey at one time.
Holding around 550-650 liters of whiskey, it can yield around 733-866 75cl bottles.
The Madeira drum is very similar to the port pipe but is much larger and is one of the largest barrels or casks out there. The main use is in commercial distilling settings. Much like the port pipe the Madeira drum is used to finish large amounts of whiskey at once, most commonly in a commercial distillery setting.
As the largest cask or barrel out there, the Madeira drum can hold 600-650 liters of whiskey.
You may have wondered why the math might be a little off with these measurements of how many bottles can be contained within one cask.
This is because of something called the Angel’s share that affects yield greatly, and means the number of bottles per cask is not the straightforward calculation it may seem on the surface.
Whiskey and bourbon often takes around three years as a minimum to mature. During this period, the porosity of the cask can strongly affect the yield once it is opened. Round 2% of volume, per year of maturing, is lost due to the ‘Angel’s Share’.
Of course, evaporation will change greatly by geography and is affected by a lot of factors. For instance, this is why whiskey or bourbon is distilled in a specific place. In Scotland, the alcohol will evaporate more than the water which will cause the ABV to decrease. In Tennessee, where a lot of bourbon is made, water will evaporate more quickly than water which increases the ABV.
As you can see there are many different barrels and casks used to mature whiskey and bourbon.
While whiskey and bourbon are made differently and by different laws, just ask any whiskey-mad drinker and they will tell you, they are subject to the same volume. In the US they mainly make 75cl whereas in Great Britain this can more usually be 70cl.
Moreover, the calculation of how much liquid you can yield from the maturing process is not a simple mathematical equation. This is due to a phenomenon known as the Angel’s Share where the porosity of whiskey barrels can cause a degree of loss in terms of either alcohol or water content.