Wine, Whiskey and Bourbon Barrel Terminology.

 In Once Used Bourbon Barrels, Whiskey Barrels, Wine Barrels

A wine, whiskey and bourbon barrel lined up next to each other to give a clear idea of the differences between barrel types.

A Glossary of Terms

Barrel terminology has developed over the course of many years, because humans have been using barrels for over two thousand years. For most of that time they were the primary container for transporting and/or storing goods around the globe. The modernization of the last 200 years has led to the barrel being replaced by more practical storage containers, but it has not lost it’s place as the primary vessel for aging spirits. In fact, barrel aging is growing in popularity. Do to the growing popularity of barrels we thought it might be a good idea to help those new to the barrel world with a list of definitions.

Barrel Anatomy Terminology

terminoly and definitions of wine, whiskey and bourbon barrels

  • Stave – A narrow piece of wood with a beveled edge that together with other staves makes up the sides of a barrel.
  • Head – The round flat sections that form the top and bottom of a barrel.
  • Bung Hole – The hole in a water tight barrel.
  • Bung – The plug is is used to keep liquid from coming out of the barrel bung hole.
  • Bilge – The center of a barrel’s bulge.
  • Hoops – Round iron bands that are used to hold a barrel together.
  • Chime – The beveled end of linked staves that holds the barrel heads in place.

Barrel Coopering Terminology

A barrel glossery of terms to help people new to the barrel world figure out what they need.

  • Cooper – A person who makes and/or repairs barrels
  • Cooperage – A barrel workshop or manufacturing facility
  • Toasting – The interior of the barrel is exposed to a flame for a small period of time. After toasting the inside of a barrel has a light brown color. The toasting process mellows the tannins in the wood which changes the the flavors imparted to the wine or spirits aging in the barrel.

A used whiskey barrel getting charred after it was shaved as part of Country Connection's barrel refurbishing program


  • Charring – The process of exposing the inside of a barrel to flame until the interior resembles burned camp fire wood. The charring process uses a hotter flame for a more extended period of time than toasting. The type of charring used affects the taste and color of the spirit that is aged in the barrel. Charring is usually only used on whiskey and bourbon barrels, and a cooperage can char a barrel to the level that is desired by the client.
  • Barrel Shaving – The process of shaving a thin layer from the inside of a  neutral wine or whiskey flavor to expose fresh oak, so the barrel can once again impart tannins to a wine or spirits. Whiskey and wine barrel refurbishing can save wineries, distilleries and breweries a considerable amount of money when compared to purchasing new barrels.
  • Barrel Hoop Driver – A tool used to push rings towards the center of the barrel to tighten them or away from the center to loosen them. They can be purchased at a variety of specialty tool stores. There are now modern hydraulic machines that can remove and replace hoops incredibly fast, but many cooperages still use a conventional hoop pulling tool.
  • Bung Puller – Yep you guessed. This tool is designed to remove bungs.
  • Bung Starter – A wooden hammer used to tap the bung stave in order to loosen the bung for removal.

Bourbon and Whiskey Barrel Specifications Infographic

Bourbon barrel terminology and specification diagram.

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