Know Your Barrel — Terminology and Tricks of the Trade

Traditional barrels — like those sold by Deep South Barrels — are made by a cooper, without nails or glue. Instead, they are held together by a series of six rings, called hoops. The outermost hoop on either end of the barrel is known as the head hood. This is followed by the quarter hoop and, nearest to the center, the bilge hoop. These hoops hold in place a series of long slats, called staves, which form the body of the barrel.

The area between individual staves is called the stave joint and the natural bulge which forms between the two innermost hoops is known as the bilge. Capping either end of a barrel is the head, which is held in place by a groove known as a croze. The beveled edge of the staves that extends past the head is known as the chime.

The bung hole is a small hole in the bilge that is used to fill the barrel. Fittingly, the bung is a type of stopper that plugs it up to prevent leaks. Most barrels are also equipped with a spigot, which is a valve located on the head that allows you to pour out liquor.

What Is the “Angel’s Share”? and Other Key Concepts

Most of us already know that proof is a measure of alcohol content on a scale from 0 to 200, where 100 proof represents a spirit that is 50% alcohol. Distillers use the term barrel proof to specify that the liquor was bottled at the proof it was aged at, as opposed to certain products that are blended or watered down to achieve a given alcohol percentage.

During aging, a small portion of the barreled spirit will evaporate. This is known as the angel’s share, and it can be minimized by following proper curing and storing techniques — keep reading to learn more! Don’t forget, the Devil is jealous and he takes his “cut” as well. This is the amount of liquor that is absorbed into the wood with each batch.

Curing and Cleaning

Now that you know the parts of a barrel and some of the key concepts and terminology of aging whiskey, what can be done to keep your DSB product working its best well into the future?

The first thing you’ll need to do is to cure your barrel before aging, to prevent leaks. To do this, first rinse out any debris and then insert the spigot, tightening it by hand until it is secure. Then, fill the barrel with very hot water, which will cause the wooden staves to expand. Check periodically for leaks, topping off the barrel until it holds water for at least three hours (this process can take as long as a week). Once the barrel has been cured, empty it out and let it sit and surface dry for three hours before aging any spirits.

Cleaning a barrel is a three-step process that can be done with a Deep South Barrels cleaning kit — visit our FAQs page for detailed instructions. If you are using your barrel to age wine, we recommend sterilizing it every time to prevent mold. If you are aging whiskey or other hard liquor, and use the same type of spirit and essences each time you use your barrel, cleaning is not necessary.

Other Tips

Here are a few more things you should know about caring for your DSB oak barrel:

  • Never store a barrel empty. If you are not aging anything, fill it with dissolved sterilizing powder.
  • Check your barrel periodically while aging liquor and top it off if necessary.
  • Keep barrels stored in a temperature-controlled environment at all times.
  • If you live in a dry climate, wipe down the exterior of your barrel with a damp rag every week to maintain proper humidity levels.
  • Rotating small American oak barrels is not necessary, but it can help aerate your spirit and extend the life of your barrel.
  • Small leaks can be sealed with barrel wax. For bigger leaks, it may be necessary to re-cure your barrel.
  • Barrel hoops are secured with rivets, which can be easily tightened using common household tools when they become loose.

Got a specific question about where to store your barrel, or anything else about maintenance and care for your purchase? Give the Deep South Barrels team a call today.

Parts of a barrel