English wine cask units

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Capacities of wine casks were formerly measured and standardised according to a specific system of English units. The various units were historically defined in terms of the wine gallon so varied according to the definition of the gallon until the adoption of the Queen Anne wine gallon in 1707. In the United Kingdom and its colonies the units were redefined with the introduction of the imperial system whilst the Queen Anne wine gallon was adopted as the standard US liquid gallon.


The major wine producing countries use barrels extensively and have developed standards at variance with the traditional English volumes that are commonly used in the wine and wine cooperage industries.[ clarification needed ] Examples include a hogshead of 300 L (66 imp gal; 79 US gal), a barrique of 220 L (48 imp gal; 58 US gal) (Bordeaux), a barrel of 225 L (49 imp gal; 59 US gal) (Australia), a barrel of 230 L (51 imp gal; 61 US gal) (Burgundy) and a puncheon of 465 L (102 imp gal; 123 US gal). [1]


English wine cask units.jpg


The tun (Old English :tunne, Latin : tunellus, Middle Latin: tunna) is an English unit of liquid volume (not weight), used for measuring wine, oil or honey. Typically a large vat or vessel, most often holding 252 wine gallons, but occasionally other sizes (e.g. 256, 240 and 208 gallons) were also used. [2]

In one example from 1507, a tun is defined as 240 gallons.

Early Modern English: "He that ys a gawner owght to understonde there ys in a tunne lx systerns and every systern ys iiii galons be yt wyne or oylle."
Translation: "He that is a gauger ought to understand that there is in a tunne 60  sesters, and every sester is 4 gallons, be it wine or oil."

Untitled manuscript, consisting of a list of various customs duties, dated 15 July 1507 [2] [3] [4]

Pipe or butt

The butt (from the medieval French and Italian botte) or pipe was half a tun, or 1008 pints (or 126 gallons). Tradition has it that George, Duke of Clarence, the brother of Edward IV of England, was drowned in a butt of malmsey on 18 February 1478. [5] [6] (However, Josephine Tey in The Daughter of Time suggests that "drowned in a butt of malmsey" means rather that George, Duke of Clarence, drank himself to death rather than literally drowning in a container of wine.) In Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Cask of Amontillado", the narrator claims he has received "a pipe of what passes for Amontillado". In Edward Bulwer-Lytton's novel "Paul Clifford", Lord Mauleverer states to Lawyer William Brandon "Because he sent me, in the handsomest manner possible, a pipe of that wonderful Madeira, which you know I consider the chief grace of my cellars, and he gave up a canal navigation bill, which would have enriched his whole county, when he knew that it would injure my property."

Puncheon or tertian

The puncheon was a third of a tun. The term puncheon, shortened to pon in the United States, is thought to derive from the fact that it would have been marked by use of a punch to denote its contents. The unit was also known as a tertian (from the Latin word for "third"). [2]


Of comparable size to the beer hogshead, the wine hogshead was equal to half a butt or a quarter of a tun.


Closely related to the modern oil barrel, the tierce was half a puncheon, a third of a butt or a sixth of a tun.


The wine barrel was half a wine hogshead or an eighth of a tun.


The rundlet was a seventh of a butt or a fourteenth of a tun.


Originally, the tun was defined as 256 wine gallons; [nb 1] this is the basis for the name of the quarter of 64 corn gallons. At some time before the 15th century, it was reduced to 252 gallons, so as to be evenly divisible by other small integers, including seven. [nb 2] Note that a 252-gallon tun of wine has an approximate mass of one long ton.

With the adoption of the Queen Anne wine gallon of 231 cubic inches the tun approximated the volume of a cylinder with both diameter and height of 42 inches. [nb 3] These were adopted as the standard US liquid gallon and tun.

When the imperial system was introduced the tun was redefined in the UK and colonies as 210 imperial gallons. The imperial tun remained evenly divisible by small integers. [nb 4] There was also little change in the actual value the tun. [nb 5]

comparisonshistoricallyimperial definitionsUS definitions
measuretunsbuttspuncheonshogsheadstiercesbarrelsrundletslitres [nb 6] gallonslitres [nb 7] gallonslitres [nb 8]
puncheon31 121341238314316–32070318.284318.0
hogshead421 131231227237–24052 12238.763238.5
tierce6321 1213437158–16035159.142159.0
barrel842 2321 13147118–12026 14119.331 12119.3
rundlet1474 233 122 131 34168– 691568.191868.14

See also


  1. 256=28
  2. 252 = 22×32×7
  3. The volume, V, of this cylinder may be approximated from the height, h, and the radius, r, as follows.
    V= πr2h
    227×(21 in)2×42 insince π ≈ 227
    = (22×32×7)×(3×7×11) cu in
    = 252×231 cu in
  4. 210 = 2×3×5×7
  5. The imperial tun is only about 0.0792% larger than the US tun assuming current definitions. Note that 5 imp gal ≈ 6 US gal.
  6. The conversion to litres is approximate and given as a range to reflect the varying definitions of the gallon and the tun in terms of the gallon.
  7. The conversion to litres shown in tooltips is exact assuming the current 4.54609-litre definition of the imperial gallon.
  8. The conversion to litres shown in tooltips is exact assuming the current 25.4-millimetre definition of the international inch.

Related Research Articles

Gallon Units of volume

The gallon is a unit of measurement for volume and fluid capacity in both the US customary units and the British imperial systems of measurement. Three significantly different sizes are in current use:

Hogshead Unit of volume

A hogshead is a large cask of liquid. More specifically, it refers to a specified volume, measured in either imperial or US customary measures, primarily applied to alcoholic beverages, such as wine, ale, or cider.

Royal Brackla distillery

Royal Brackla distillery is a Highland Scotch whisky distillery on the Cawdor Estate, near Nairn in Scotland. The distillery is operated by John Dewar & Sons Ltd for Bacardi.

TUN or tun may refer to:

Barrel (unit)

A barrel is one of several units of volume applied in various contexts; there are dry barrels, fluid barrels, oil barrels, and so forth. For historical reasons the volumes of some barrel units are roughly double the volumes of others; volumes in common use range approximately from 100 to 200 litres. In many connections the term drum is used almost interchangeably with barrel.

Barrel Hollow cylindrical container

A barrel or cask is a hollow cylindrical container with a bulging center, longer than it is wide. They are traditionally made of wooden staves and bound by wood or metal hoops. The word vat is often used for large containers for liquids, usually alcoholic beverages; a small barrel or cask, typically with capacity of not more than ten gallons, is known as a keg.

Drum (container)

A drum is a cylindrical container used for shipping bulk cargo. Drums can be made of steel, dense paperboard, or plastics, and are generally used for the transportation and storage of liquids and powders. Drums are often certified for shipment of dangerous goods. Shipped goods must be matched with the make of drum necessary to comply with applicable regulations. Drums are also called barrels in common usage.


A keg is a small barrel. Traditionally, a wooden keg is made by a cooper and used to transport items such as nails, gunpowder, and a variety of liquids.

The rundlet is an archaic unit-like size of wine casks once used in Britain. It was equivalent to about 68 litres. It used to be defined as 18 wine gallons—one of several gallons then in use—before the adoption of the imperial system in 1824, afterwards it was 15 imperial gallons, which became the universal English base unit of volume in the British realm.

The tun is an English unit of liquid volume, used for measuring wine, oil or honey. Typically a large vat or vessel, most often holding 252 wine gallons, but occasionally other sizes were also used.

The butt was an English measure of liquid volume equalling two hogsheads, being between 450 and 1060 litres by various historical definitions.

Heidelberg Tun Extremely large wine barrel

The Heidelberg Tun, or Great Heidelberg Tun, is an extremely large wine vat contained within the cellars of Heidelberg Castle. There have been four such barrels in the history of Heidelberg. In 1751, the year of its construction, the present one had a capacity of 221,726 litres. Due to the drying of the wood its current capacity is 219,000 litres. One hundred and thirty oak trees were reputedly used in its construction. It has only rarely been used as a wine barrel, and in fact presently enjoys more use as a tourist attraction, and also as a dance floor since one was constructed on top of the tun.

English units are the units of measurement used in England up to 1826, which evolved as a combination of the Anglo-Saxon and Roman systems of units. Various standards have applied to English units at different times, in different places, and for different applications.

A wine gallon is a unit of capacity that was used routinely in England as far back as the 14th century, and by statute under Queen Anne since 1707. Britain abandoned the wine gallon in 1826 when it adopted imperial units for measurement. The 1707 wine gallon is the basis of the United States' gallon, as well as other measures.

Capacities of brewery casks were formerly measured and standardised according to a specific system of English units. The system was originally based on the ale gallon of 282 cubic inches. In United Kingdom and its colonies, with the adoption of the imperial system in 1824, the units were redefined in terms of the slightly smaller imperial gallon. The older units continued in use in the United States.

The tierce is both an archaic volume unit of measure of goods and the name of the cask of that size. The most common definitions are either one-third of a pipe or forty-two gallons. In the petroleum industry - a barrel of oil is defined as 42 US gallons.

The puncheon was a British unit for beer, wines and spirits. It was also an American unit of capacity for wine.

The quarter is used as the name of several distinct English units based on ¼ sizes of some base unit.

A number of units of measurement were used in South Africa to measure quantities like length, mass, capacity, etc. The Imperial system of measurements was made standard in 1922 and the metric system was adopted in 1970.

The Exchequer Standards may refer to the set of official English standards for weights and measures created by Queen Elizabeth I, and in effect from 1588 to 1826, when the Imperial Units system took effect, or to the whole range of English unit standards maintained by the Court of the Exchequer from the 1200s, or to the physical reference standards physically kept at the Exchequer and used as the legal reference until the such responsibility was transferred in the 1860s, after the Imperial system had been established.


  1. http://www.apjohn.com.au/Upload/PrintPages/AP%20John_Technical_Specifications.pdf%5B%5D Web Archive
  2. 1 2 3 Zupko, Ronald E. (1985). "A Dictionary of Weights and Measures for the British Isles: The Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century, Volume 168". Memoirs of the American Philosophical Society. American Philosophical Society. 168. ISBN   9780871691682. Quoting Gras (1918), p. 706
  3. Gras, Norman S.B. (1918). Early English Customs Systems. Cambridge. p. 706. Quoting Forgon (1507)
  4. Forgon, T. (15 July 1507). Untitled manuscript, consisting of a list of various customs duties. Reproduced at sizes.com.
  5. "Dukes of Great Britain". Archived from the original on 2013-02-18. Retrieved 2012-09-14.
  6. Biography Channel Duke of Clarence