Last Updated on August 25, 2022 by Lydia Martin
When it comes to whiskey, there are a few key terms you need to know to talk about it like a pro.
One of these terms is barrel proof. For sure, you’ve heard people babbling about this many times, but what does barrel proof mean?
Let’s take a closer look at what barrel proof really means and why it matters.
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All About Barrel Proof
According to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, barrel proof or barrel strength refers to whiskey or any distilled spirit bottled at no more than 2 degrees of proof lower than when it came out of the barrel.
It is essentially what the spirit tastes like right out of the whiskey barrel.
The term can also be used more broadly to refer to any alcohol that has been bottled at its full proof without being diluted.
Barrel-proof spirits tend to be fuller-bodied and more flavorful than those that have been diluted, making them a favorite among connoisseurs.
However, they can also be more difficult to drink neat, so many people prefer to add a splash of water or ice before enjoying.
What It Means To Be Barrel Proof
When a spirit is referred to as “barrel proof,” it means that the spirit has been aged in a wooden barrel. This aging process gives the spirit its distinctive flavor and color.
The term “barrel proof” can also be used to describe a spirit that has been bottled without being diluted with water. Hence, this results in much higher alcohol content, ranging from 40% to 50% ABV.
Barrel-proof spirits are typically very strong and flavorful, and experienced drinkers often enjoy them.
While barrel-proof spirits can be enjoyed neat or on the rocks, they are often used in cocktails where they can add a unique flavor profile.
Rules On Labeling Barrel Proofs
The Bureau of Alcohols, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) Ruling 79-9 recognized the dire need to set guidelines for using terms like “Barrel Proof” on distilled spirits labels.
However, no standard definition has been issued that specifies when and under what conditions these spirits may bear phrases to indicate the proof of the spirits that have the same proofs when produced and bottled. 
To prevent any misunderstandings, the Bureau issued the following guidelines:
- Distilled spirits that are labeled “Original Proof,” Original barrel Proof,” or “Entry Proof” means that the proof entered into the barrel and the proof of the bottled spirit are the same.
- The barrel proof label means that the bottling proof is not more than two degrees lower than the proof set when the spirit was gauged for tax determination purposes.
Many distillers voluntarily disclose this information on their labels.
As a result, consumers can rest assured that they are getting what they expect when they purchase a barrel-proof whiskey.
Why It’s On The Expensive Side
Barrel-proof whiskey is usually in the expensive price range because no water is added during bottling.
This means that the whiskey in the bottle is in its purest form, giving you the most intense aromas and extraordinary flavors possible.
Most barrel proof bourbons will cost more than $50.
How Barrel Proof Compares To Other Bourbons
The term small batch refers to a blend of several barrels, usually 150 or less, of the same bourbon. Distillers are pickier about what they include in the batch, making this blend more expensive than standard bottles.
Single barrel simply means that a bottle of bourbon came from one barrel.
These bottles can potentially vary in taste, depending on several factors like the barrel where they came from, the location of the barrel in the warehouse, and the weather the barrels were exposed to.
Bottled-in-Bond is a strictly regulated title for bourbons that are 100 proof and aged for no less than four years.
Full proof bourbon is a concept similar to barrel proof but requires whiskey to be at 125 proof when transferred into the barrel for aging. It should also be at 125 proof when bottled.
Is barrel proof the same as cask strength?
Yes. Cask strength is also known as barrel proof.
It is a term used by whiskey producers to describe a whiskey that hasn’t been significantly diluted after cask storage for maturation. The term “cask strength” is preferred in Scotland.
How do you drink barrel proof bourbon?
You can drink barrel proof bourbon neat at room temperature or add a few drops of water to open up the flavors. But like what we always say, it depends on your preference.
Barrel proof whiskey simply means that no additional water was added before bottling.
Whether you prefer it straight from the cask or add water before drinking, barrel proof whiskey gives you some of the boldest flavors.
For most of us whiskey fans, this uncut straight-out-of-the-barrel liquid is as good as it gets.
Lydia Martin hails from Redmond, Washington, where you’ll find some of the best cocktail bars and distilleries that offer a great mix of local drinks. She used to work as a bar manager in Paris and is a self-taught mixologist whose passion for crafting unique cocktails led her to create Liquor Laboratory. Lydia can whip up a mean Margarita in seconds! Contact at [email protected] or learn more about us here.