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A 7 gallon oak barrel
Parts of a Cask
Oak Flavor Influences

Wooden container used to store spirits, normally made of oak though other woods are also used.

Technically, a barrel is a type of cask that holds 36 gallons.

Aging affects

During the barrel aging process, some of the following chemical changes occur in the spirit:

Barrel Customization

Although some barrels are new oak, many have been customized somehow:

Barrel Surface Area

The size of the barrel affects the surface area the spirit touches. The higher the surface area that the spirit touches the faster oak flavors are transferred to the spirit. The smaller the barrel the larger the surface area is compared to the spirit.

Usage Terminology

  • First Fill: The first time a barrel is used. This is required in most forms of American Whiskey production. It will impart the strongest flavors of the wood.
  • Second/Third/Etc Fill: Normally "Second (or further) fill" is used to describe the reuse of a barrel with a similar product. The Second and further fill reduce the wood flavors absorbed by the distillate allowing longer ageing before it gets over oaked. It is common to see third and forth fill barrels.
  • Ex-(spirit/wine): Ex-barrels is used to describe re-use (Second+ fill) of a barrel when used with a dissimilar spirit. Scotch is commonly aged in Ex-Bourbon and Ex-Sherry barrels. Ex-Wine barrels are now starting to become common.
  • Finishing: Finishing is taking a spirit from one barrel and being put in another before being bottled. Spending too much time in one type of cask may impart too strong of a specific flavor. Finishing allows to mix casks to create a unique flavor profile. Common with Ex-Sherry casks in Scotch. New make Scotch will spend most of its time (several years) in ex-bourbon barrels and the last couple months to a couple years in a Ex-Sherry cask. It is also becoming common to see 3 or more types of casks used to age a spirit.

Barrel Alternatives

If you can not store your spirit for years in a 55 gallon oak barrel, there are some alternatives which provide a reasonable approximation of barrel aging:

External links