How does the barrel size influence our whisky? Let’s find out

Here at Starward, our search for the best local and international barrels to mature our whisky never stops. Every barrel we source offers a world of flavour possibilities. Barrels are the secret ingredient to our whisky, they’re part of our DNA and a key element in going further for flavour. When it comes to barrels, it’s not always a one-size-fits-all approach. To understand how barrel size can affect the flavour of whisky, we enlisted the help of Starward’s Head Blender, Jarrad. Let’s get into it!

Sizing it up

“Let me tell you, size matters!” says Jarrad. There’s a whole lot of different barrel sizes up for grabs when it comes to whisky maturation. They can range from 20L up to 700L and with names like Butts, Gordo and Hogshead you’d be forgiven for thinking the person who named them was pulling our leg. At Starward we use three key barrels: Puncheons, Barriques and Hogshead.

Barrique Barrels

The first barrel in order of smallest literage is Barrique. “[The Barrique] is about 225 litres; smaller barrels like this one have a much higher ratio of liquid to wood, so we’re going to get more impact from the cask and the flavours come from the barrel,” explains Jarrad. This type of barrel is largely made from oak, though the type of oak and the level of toasting can vary which influences the flavour profile of the wine or spirit.

Barriques are widely used in winemaking, as their smaller size allows for more rapid oxygenation and interaction between the wine and the wood, imparting rich flavours and aromas. At Starward, the Barrique barrels we use are predominately sourced from the Barossa Valley and local wine regions here in Victoria, like the Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula. Whisky (like Nova Single Malt)  matured in smaller barrels like a Barrique can have a stronger oak profile, this is because there’s a high level of contact between the barrel and the liquid and more surface area for the liquid to escape the warm embrace of the barrel.         


Hogsheads are larger than Barriques but smaller than Puncheons, typically holding around 225 to 300 litres of liquid. This is a common barrel type used in the maturation process and allows for a slower maturation compared to smaller barrels like Barriques, which can benefit certain types of whisky. “With this size, the wood has less impact so we’re going to see the spirit shine through,” explains Jarrad. Two-Fold Wheat & Single Malt use a mix of Hogsheads to perfect this tasty number.


Puncheons are relatively larger barrels, typically holding around 500 to 700 litres of liquid. “This is my personal favourite,” says Jarrad, going on, “[it’s] 500 litres – a big boy! When we get up to the Puncheons it’s more about the spirit – there’s a little bit of wood flavour and cask impact, but we really want to see the Starward tropical spirit flavour shine,” explains Jarrad.  Similar to Barriques, Puncheons are commonly used in winemaking, particularly for fermenting and ageing wine. This barrel type is especially popular for wines that benefit from a slower ageing process or for blending purposes. Their larger size allows for slower oxygenation and maturation of the wine, resulting in a smoother and more complex flavour profile. 

Essentially, bigger barrels mean there’s less surface area for the liquid to interact with, this means those oaky notes remain more subtle. It also allows for other tasting notes to shine more prominently – think red orchard fruits, forest berries or those tropical flavours Jarrad mentioned above. As for smaller barrels, they lead to a more oaky profile. There’s also a more oaky influence when we use virgin oak casks versus previously loved casks like those that used to house red wine. 

So, now we know that different barrel sizes exist, does it greatly impact the flavour of our whisky? “In short, yes barrel size does matter. It has a huge impact on the flavour which is why we mix and match our barrels here at Starward,” says Jarrad.