The word 'barrel' is commonly used as a name for the type of container which beers are delivered to the pub in. However the word is more correctly, a unit of measure. As a container, the cask was made of wood and roughly cylindrical in shape except that it 'bulged' outwards in the middle, and was used to transport not only the obvious liquids (water, beer, wine etc.) but also other commodities such as fish, sugar, flour, meat, cement, minerals, and so on. The sizes of the different casks varied with contents and, some of these different casks acquired different names. 


Cask Sizes

Pin 4� Gallons  




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Firkin 9 Gallons = 2 Pins
Kilderkin 18 Gallons = 2 Firkins
Barrel 36 Gallons = 2 Kilderkins
Hogshead 54 Gallons = 1� Barrels
Puncheon 72 Gallons = 2 Barrels
Butt 108 Gallons = 2 Hogsheads
Tun 216 Gallons = 2 Butts

Ales are delivered to pubs in varying sizes of cask dependent on the amount of storage capacity and also the volume of ales which the pub can sell. A 'Pin' can easily be stored on a counter top to dispense the ales straight to the glass but the largest cask used would normally be a 'Hogshead' as anything larger becomes very difficult to move around a cellar

The firkin, a small beer cask, holding nine Imperial gallons (72 pints) would have been of traditional wooden construction (often Oak) whereas modern day casks are usually made from Aluminium. Aluminium kegs start at nine gallons. They are of the non-pressurised type for real ales, unlike the casks of 'Keg' beers which require the assistance of carbon dioxide gas to extract the contents. 

Glossary of Brewing