Fettercairn 12 year old whisky review
July 1, 2022
Best whiskey books
Best Whiskey Books and Literature
December 29, 2022
Fettercairn 12 year old whisky review
July 1, 2022
Best whiskey books
Best Whiskey Books and Literature
December 29, 2022

Whiskey cask types

Whiskey maturing - different cask types in making whiskey

Whiskey casks are the wooden vessels used to store, age and transport whisky. Not all woods are suitable for whiskey cask usage, as a number of factors can affect their flavor. These factors include:

  • Type of wood used.
  • How it was treated and seasoned.
  • Shape and size of the cask.

Most common types of wood used for whisky casks

Each type of wood imparts different flavor characteristics to the whisky, depending on its properties. For example, American white oak imparts sweet vanilla notes while European oak gives a spicy character. Latest addition being cherry wood by some pioneering distilleries such as Middleton.

Wood typeFlavors
American white oak (Quercus alba)Vanilla, caramel, soft and mellowing affect
European oak (Quercus robur and petraea)Spicy, bitter, strong affect on the wood
Japanese Mizunara Oak (Quercus crispula)Sandal wood, coconut, (oriental) spices
Maple (Acer)Maple syrup, sweetens the liquid
(French) cherry woodGinger, coconut and black tea

Seasoning of casks

Prior to being filled with spirit which will turn into whisky in the cask, wooden casks must be “seasoned” by being filled with predecessor liquids such as:

  • Spirits such as bourbon (American whiskey) or rum.
  • Fortified wines such as sherry or port.
  • Wine.
  • Even beer can be used for seasoning.

This process helps to open up the pores of the wood so that spirit can penetrate more easily during maturation. It also helps to draw out some of the tannins in the wood which can give an astringent flavor if not properly prepared beforehand.

PredecessorLiquid typeEffect on tasteEffect on color
BourbonWhiskeySweet, creamy, vanilla, caramelGolden
AmontilladoSherrySweet, fresh, dry, acid, nuttyAmber
FinoSherrySweet, dry, light fruits and woodBright
ManzanillaSherryDry, fresh, salty, maritime, fruitsBright
OlorosoSherryDeep, nutty, dark ripe fruitsRed amber
Palo CortadoSherryRich, sweet, dry, sweet spices, fruitsBrown
Pedro Ximenez (PX)SherryVery sweet, dark fruits, raisins, syrupAmber
Liqueur MuscatFortified wineVery sweet, dark fruits, raisins, syrupAmber
MadeiraFortified wineDry, sweet, spicy, lightly fruityDark amber
MarsalaFortified wineSweet, complex, spicesDark red
Tawny PortFortified wineSweet, spicy, dried fruits, nutsRed
Ruby PortFortified wineVery fruity, dark fruits, berriesRed
Rosé PortFortified wineBerries, caramelRose
White PortFortified wineSweet, citrusGolden
AmaroneWineTannins (bitter), dry, raisins, ripe fruitsRed
BaroloWineTannins (bitter), heavy aromas, fruits, dried fruitsRed
BordeauxWineStrong red fruits, grapes (wine), berriesRed
BurgundyWineLightly sweet and dry, fruityDark red
ChardonnayWineLean, crisp, acid, tropical fruitsBright
MuscatWineSweet, floral, citrus, peachBright
SauternesWineSweet, zest, acid, light fruitsBright
TokajiWineVery sweet, light, fresh, citrus, mangoBright
Rum (white)SpiritSweet, molasses, vanilla, tropical fruit, almondBright
Rum (dark)SpiritSweet, syrup, dark fruits, oak, caramel, vanillaAmber
Virgin OakFresh, vanilla, cloves, caramel, woodDark brown

Charring of casks

The charring process is another important part of preparing a cask for maturation. The inside of the cask will be set on fire in order to create a layer of charcoal which helps to filter out unwanted compounds during maturation such as sulphur compounds which can give off unpleasant odours and tastes in whisky.

Bluegrass Cooperage charring bourbon barrels:

Toasting of casks

Casks may also be subjected to “toasting” which involves heating them over open flames at high temperatures in order to caramelize some of the sugars present in the wood. Again, giving off desirable flavors such as nutty or honeyed notes that would otherwise not be present if left untreated.

Whisky cask sizes

Casks come in various sizes depending on where they are made and their purpose – typically these range from 50 litres all the way up to 500 litres. Though there is no standardized size across different producers.

  • Big cask usually means over 400 liters (132 US gallons). Big sizes include Butt, Port Pipe, Puncheon and Madeira Drum.
  • Medium cask means 200-400 liters (53-106 US gallons). Medium sizes include American Standard Barrel (ASB) referred as Bourbon barrel, any Hogshead, Barrique, Cognac and Bordeaux casks.
  • Small cask means below 200 liters (53 US gallons). Small sizes include Quarter cask and blood tub.

Many distilleries use smaller casks such as 25-40 litre barrels because they mature faster than larger barrels. Yet they offer less complexity due to having less contact with surface area compared to a larger cask over time; this makes them ideal for finishing whiskies or creating quick-maturing blends where complexity isn’t required.

By contrast, many Scottish distilleries prefer larger 250-500 litre sherry butts due largely because these allow for prolonged maturation times. Which allow for greater complexity in flavour profile over time, compared with smaller ex-bourbon barrels – making them ideal for creating single malts with deeper layers of flavour and aroma profiles.

Below you can find complete table of various cask sizes:

Type nameLiter sizeUS gallon sizeImperial gallon size
Madeira Drum650172143
Port Pipe500132109
Sherry Hogshead2456554
Standard Hogshead2386352
Bourbon Barrel/ASB2005344
Barrique cask2255949
Bordeaux type2255949
Quarter Cask1253327
Blood tub501311

Barrel type can make a big difference

Overall, like stated in the beginning of this article: there are numerous factors that can affect how whisky matures when stored in wooden casks. These include type of wood used, seasoning techniques applied prior to filling, level of charring/toasting applied before maturation begins and finally, the size of the cask employed throughout its lifetime.

Each one of these factors play an integral part in helping craft unique flavours found within any given whisky expression today. And the distillers have gotten quite imaginative with all those factors. Which is a good thing.

Johannes Lindblom
Johannes Lindblom
Finnish whisky enthusiast and the author of WhiskyRant! A digital marketing professional by day – a whisky reviewer and informer by night.


  1. Harold Crespo says:

    Hy! I’m researching on angel’s share and I found here the list of casks sizes but I’m looking for its dimensions (head diameter, center diameter and height)

    • Johannes Lindblom says:

      Hi Harold,

      That’s a good question and information I should try and find to improve this article, thanks. The information might be found from various cask makers websites. For example, Whisky Barrels Direct for American Standard Barrel (ASB):
      “Approximate Dimensions:
      Height: 880mm (35”)
      Top: 550mm (22”)
      Middle: 600mm (24”)
      Bottom: 550mm (22”)”

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