Liquor Laboratory

What Does Barrel Proof Mean? Here’s the Answer (2024)

what does barrel proof mean

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.

What Does Barrel Proof Mean?

Garrison Brothers


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 |What Does Barrel Proof Mean?

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. 

Read: Double Barrel Whiskey Explained

Rules On Labeling Barrel Proofs 

Stagg Jr Barrel Proof

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. [1]

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 

How Barrel Proof Compares To Other Bourbons 

Small Batch

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

Blanton's Single Barrel

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. 


New Riff Bottled-in-Bond

Bottled-in-Bond is a strictly regulated title for bourbons that are 100 proof and aged for no less than four years.

Full Proof

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. 

Best Bourbon Under $50:

For bourbon aficionados willing to stretch their budget slightly, Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon presents an exceptional value proposition. Priced under $50, this bourbon offers a depth of flavor and complexity that belies its modest cost. With its combination of rich caramel, vanilla, and oak notes, along with a hint of spice and a velvety smooth finish, Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon delivers a drinking experience that rivals many higher-priced options. Its careful craftsmanship and attention to detail shine through in every sip, making it a standout choice for those seeking premium quality without breaking the bank.

Best Bourbon Under $100:

At the sub-$100 price point, Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon emerges as a top contender for the discerning bourbon enthusiast. With its higher price tag comes an elevated drinking experience characterized by layers of complexity and sophistication. From its well-balanced blend of fruit, spice, and floral notes to its smooth and lingering finish, Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon exemplifies craftsmanship and quality. While it may represent a slightly higher investment, its exceptional flavor profile and undeniable allure make it a worthwhile splurge for special occasions or simply indulging in a premium bourbon experience.

Best Bourbon Under $300:

For those seeking the pinnacle of bourbon excellence without venturing into ultra-premium price ranges, Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon stands as a beacon of luxury and refinement. Priced under $300, this bourbon offers a truly transcendent drinking experience characterized by its unparalleled depth, complexity, and elegance. From its distinctive bottle design to its meticulously crafted flavor profile featuring layers of caramel, spice, and oak, every aspect of Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon exudes sophistication and class. With its smooth and velvety texture, along with a long, satisfying finish, it’s a bourbon that commands attention and admiration. While it represents a significant investment, the unparalleled quality and unmatched drinking experience make Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon a worthy addition to any connoisseur’s collection.

FAQs Related to What Does Barrel Proof Mean? 

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. 

How is the alcohol content determined in barrel proof whiskey?

The alcohol content in barrel proof whiskey is determined by the proof of the whiskey as it ages in the barrel. It is bottled directly from the barrel without any additional water added, maintaining its original strength.

Can barrel proof whiskey be diluted with water?

Yes, barrel proof whiskey can be diluted with water to lower its alcohol content and make it more palatable. Adding water can also unlock additional flavors and aromas in the whiskey.

Are there any risks associated with drinking barrel proof whiskey?

Due to its high alcohol content, barrel proof whiskey should be consumed responsibly. It may lead to intoxication more quickly than lower proof whiskey, so moderation is key.

Are there any notable brands known for producing barrel proof whiskey?

Several distilleries offer barrel proof or cask strength whiskey releases, including Buffalo Trace, Elijah Craig, and Stagg Jr. These brands provide a range of barrel proof options for enthusiasts.

How does barrel proof whiskey compare to regular whiskey in terms of flavor?

Barrel proof whiskey often boasts a more intense flavor profile, with bold and complex flavors derived from its aging process at full strength. It may have a stronger alcohol burn but can also showcase rich and nuanced flavors.

What does barrel proof mean bourbon?

Barrel proof in bourbon refers to the strength or alcohol content of the whiskey straight from the barrel, without dilution or adjustment. Unlike standard bottling, where bourbon is typically diluted with water to achieve a specific alcohol by volume (ABV), barrel proof bourbon is bottled directly from the cask, maintaining its original potency. This results in a whiskey with a higher alcohol content, often ranging from 110 to 140 proof or higher, depending on the specific barrel.

The term “barrel proof” signifies that the bourbon has not been watered down or filtered after aging, preserving its full intensity and flavor profile as intended by the distiller. This means that drinkers experience the bourbon exactly as it was when it matured in the barrel, with all the complexities and nuances that come from the aging process.

Barrel proof bourbons are highly sought after by enthusiasts for several reasons. Firstly, they offer a more intense and concentrated flavor experience compared to their diluted counterparts. Secondly, they provide an opportunity for whiskey connoisseurs to appreciate the raw, unadulterated characteristics of the bourbon and the unique influence of the barrel on its development. Finally, barrel proof bourbons often allow for greater versatility in mixing cocktails, as their robust flavors can stand up well to other ingredients without getting lost in the mix. Overall, barrel proof bourbon represents a purist approach to whiskey appreciation, celebrating the spirit in its most authentic and potent form.

Key Takeaways of What Does Barrel Proof Mean?

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. 


  1. ATF Ruling 79-9
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