what is a barrel in brewing

Wooden 1 BBL Whiskey Barrel

What is a barrel in brewing?

A barrel or BBL is 31 gallons. This question often comes up when going on a brewery tour or when reading about large scale brewing systems. A barrel, often abbreviated BBL, is 31 U.S. gallons. The standard large beer kegs pictured below are 1/2 barrels, and the taller skinnier beer kegs are 1/6 barrels. The wooden barrels you typically see used for aging whiskey are usually 53-gallon barrels. You will often see this term used in the beer brewing industry often for production and brewing capacity.

Barrel Brewing Capacity

When it comes to capacity, smaller-scale brewing systems, or what the industry would call their brewhouse, are typically in the 7 to 10 barrel range. This means each time they brew, they can make 7-10 barrels of beer per brew. So a 10 barrel brewhouse will brew 310-gallon batches at a time. Meanwhile, larger breweries can have 60 to over 1,000 barrel brewhouses, and they brew several times a day.

1/2 Barrel Kegs

Annual Barrel Production

For production, the barrel count is used for determining yearly production. For example, one of our local breweries can brew 60,000 barrels yearly, but they brew and sell 23,000 barrels. Meanwhile, Anheuser-Busch InBev made 426 million barrels in 2016. The homebrewer association wrote an interesting article putting their insane barrel brewing capacity in perspective. Basically, in 2016, the U.S. had 5,234 craft breweries, which combined made 24.6 million barrels of beer. So on average, each brewery produced 4,700 barrels per year. After crunching the numbers, Anheuser-Busch InBev made this amount every 5 minutes and 48 seconds.

So now that you know what a barrel is, next time you visit a brewery, go ahead and ask, “What size brewhouse do you have back there? And follow it up with, “How many barrels did you do last year? You’ll sound like an old pro, maybe even get an industry discount.