Whisky Casks: The Hogshead

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After barrels, hogsheads are the second-most common type of cask used in maturing Scotch whisky. A hogshead, or ‘hoggie’, is a unique type of reconstructed cask with extra staves and new ends. Considered the most popular aging mechanism, it allows for more whisky to be stored in the same amount of warehouse space, though with less wood contact than the common American Standard Barrel.

What Is A Hogshead? A Hogshead is an approximately 250 liter oak barrel used for the maturation of Scotch whisky. It’s common for coopers to break down five ex-bourbon barrels into staves and reassemble them with new ends to make a hogshead, or hoggie.

Why Bourbon Barrels

Former bourbon barrels are extremely popular for the maturation of whisky, because American distilleries are only allowed to use them once for storage by law. In addition to being readily availabile and reasonably priced, their taste properties are also prized providing notes of vanilla, toffee and caramel, in addition to the tannic carbonous flavourings.

Most of the ex-bourbon barrels are not shipped in one piece from the USA to Scotland - the costs would be too high, because the barrels are empty, bulky and take up a lot of space. For cost reasons, they are usually disassembled into their individual parts and sent on their way packed in sea containers. They could be reassembled as is, or be rebuilt to be slightly larger.

While the American Standard Barrel (ASB) usually has a volume of around 200 liters the Hogshead barrel is rebuilt to a volume of between 225 to 250 liters allowing a few liters more whisky to mature in the barrel without affecting the stability of the cask. In most cases assembled from ex-bourbon barrels, while Sherry casks can be used to make Hogsheads this is in practice quite rare.

How are hogshead barrels made?

As the the ex-bourbon barrels are shipped as flat packed staves from the USA to Scotland they must be rebuilt by a Scottish cooperage such as the tourable Speyside Cooperage. At this time, some additional staves are added to the barrels, so that the ASB barrel with a volume of around 200 liters becomes a hogshead barrel with a volume of 225 to 250 liters.

What Is The Origin Of The Word Hogshead?

Gregory’s Chronicle of London (1460) makes reference to a ‘hoggys hedys of wyne’. while in 1483, Likewise a statute from the court of Richard III specified that a ‘hogshead’ referred to a wine cask containing 63 ‘wine-gallons’ [52.5 Imperial gallons or, in metric terms, 243 litres]. The exact origin is alas, like the origin of whisky itself unfortunately lost to the ages.

The word Hogshead is most likely derived from the unit of measurement Oxhoft, which was a common volume measure for wine and beer at the time. Another possibility is found in the Gaelic tocsaid, itself the word for a cask derived from tog meaning ‘to brew.

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