New type of cask: Square barrel

A new form of Whisky Cask is now finding its way into the Scotch Whisky scene. Some people may be sceptical, but the so-called 'Square Barrel' has many practical advantages! First, we saw the new cube-shaped cask at the Islay distillery Ardbeg.

What is it with these special casks?

Let's start with a few facts: The casks have a capacity of about 200 liters, similar to an American Standard Barrel, also known as Bourbon Barrel. Like the ASB, the Square Barrel is made of American white oak (Quercus alba), which gives the Whisky soft and mild aromas of vanilla and caramel during maturation. The parallels to the ASB are no coincidence: As we hear, Ardbeg was inspired by the bottle of Tennessee Whiskey Jack Daniel's for this variety of cask. Does this cooperation cast a bad light on the Scotch Whisky industry? We don't think so! The Square Barrel brings decisive advantages for warehouse logistics. The positive influence on the Whisky's taste is not affected - the wood remains the same.

For one thing, Square Barrels are easier to manufacture than their round counterparts. The fact that the staves do not have to be bent saves the time-consuming production step of heating and shaping. The new Square Barrels can easily be assembled in machine production.

On the other hand, Square Barrels are inherently more space-saving for storage and transport. So warehouse managers are pleased as they can now economise on their space in the warehouses. This is particularly advantageous in the less spacious dunnage warehouses, where casks are not stacked and stand on soft, unstable clay floors. The cubical shape of the casks makes ideal use of the space, while the square base ensures a more stable standing. But even in spacious racked or palletised warehouses, where several rows of casks are stacked on top of each other, the space saving with the new casks is immense.

Of course, a Square Barrel cannot be rolled as easily as an ordinary round cask. As the casks are transported exclusively by forklift, this also makes the job of the warehousemen much easier.

The most important aspect in the maturation of Whisky is of course the resulting aroma of the final product. Experts still disagree on this point: for some it is quite clear that the taste is not influenced by the shape of the cask. After all, the cask size is like that of a standard Bourbon barrel. Thus the Whisky matures with the same pace and intensity as in a round Bourbon cask. However, there are Whisky makers who believe that maturing in a square cask has a positive influence on the Whisky. For example, blenders and distillers at Ardbeg distillery believe that the flows in the square cask could be different. This makes the Whisky more 'edgy' and less round - a dram for the advanced connoisseur. At the moment, tests are underway to determine the aroma of Whisky from Square Barrels. We are looking forward to tasting the first bottling for you!

The British government sees only advantages in the Square Barrels. In addition to the more effective use of transport and logistics capacities, the politicians especially see a decisive advantage in safety: the UK government's Her Majesty's Explosion Protection Service (HMEPS) announced that the minimal gaps between the casks provide both more protection against theft and less gas accumulation between the casks. Since minimizing explosion hazards is of course what the HMEPS is all about, the service has also approved the use of Square Barrels.

In fact, the organisation is so convinced of the advantages of the square shape that they are now extending it to other aspects of life. For economic reasons, scientists have recently started to breed Scottish sheep in square form. Animal welfare organisations such as PETA or the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) have already voiced criticism in this regard.

Scottish cuisine is also jumping on the Square trend. Some pubs and restaurants are already serving square dishes, such as this 'Square Haggis' in an insider pub in Aberdeen.

Dear Whisky friends, you probably already guessed that something is not quite right here. With the Square Barrel we just played an April Fool's trick on you. The story is, of course, made up from the beginning to the end - April Fool! ;) We hope you don't mind our little prank and enjoy your Easter holidays!