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Updated at: 27 February 2024

Barrels have been integral to the art of alcohol production for over a millennia. Whisky, for instance, relies on oak barrels for its crucial maturation process. They are pivotal in shaping the spirit’s flavors, aromas, and strengths. 

There are two different types of barrels used for aging alcohol: Air-Dried Barrels and Kiln-Dried Barrels. Both methods have their benefits, but the choice depends on the distiller’s preferences, production scale, and desired characteristics. Whether you’re sourcing or manufacturing alcohol, understanding the differences between each type of barrel can help you make the best-informed decision.

The Anatomy of a Barrel

Regardless of the type you select, understanding the anatomy of any barrel plays a vital role in the aging process. Although barrels may not seem complex, each component ensures the contents are well-protected and aged to perfection, a crucial step in the maturation process.

What is a Barrel?

A barrel or cask is a hollow cylindrical container with a bulging center. They have two main functions – to store liquids and hold maturing spirits like cognac, armagnac, and whisky. They are traditionally made of wooden staves and bound by wood or metal hoops.

Barrel Staff

Barrel staves are flat wooden sticks that make up the body–its prominent feature, the grain, runs parallel along the length of the barrel.


Wooden hoops are designed to keep the staves in place to ensure the barrel stays intact.

Barrel Head

The Barrel Head is a flat wooden circle that closes the barrel on either end. Staves are required to keep the heads secure.


To seal the barrel, a bung, which is a wooden stopper, is used to close the top.

 The Role of Barrels In Alcohol Production

Between Air-Dried Barrels vs. Kiln-Dried Barrels

Understanding how air-dried and kiln-dried barrels differ is crucial for producing whisky. This decision can impact the final product’s flavor, aroma, and overall characteristics. Here are the key differences:

Air-Dried Barrels 

Air-drying is a preferred method among traditional whisky producers. It imparts a certain character that enthusiasts appreciate, which is why many still opt for air-dried barrels despite the availability of modern alternatives. 

Air-drying is a natural process that allows the wood to dry over an extended period. This method takes advantage of environmental conditions like wind and sunlight. The slower process allows for a more gradual interaction between the wood and the environment, resulting in barrels with more complex flavors and aromas.

Kiln-Dried Barrels

Kiln drying offers a modern approach to whisky production and  it is becoming increasingly popular in the industry. Kiln drying is a rapid and controlled process that uses artificial heat to dry the wood within days. Having more control over the drying process leads to more consistent wood quality. While kiln-dried wood may impart different flavors to whisky compared to air-dried barrels, most consider it a more efficient process.

Cost and Efficiency at Sasma

The decision between using air-dried or kiln-dried barrels indicates a distillery’s stance on traditional methods versus modern practices. Between the two, kiln drying is more cost-effective and time-efficient than air drying, making it an attractive option for large-scale production. Some distilleries use a combination of both to achieve a balance between tradition and efficiency.

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