My Barrel Is Bigger Than Your Barrel

The Tale Of The Barrel

I love history and I love a big story.  The stories that are so big, you can hardly believe they are true.

There was a time when all beer and wine was stored in wooden barrels. Now stainless steel and aluminum seem to be the norm. Well, for brewers at least.  

Most barrels today are fairly standard in size, with some exceptions. More about that later.  You would be absolutely amazed how enormous these barrels or tuns actually were.

And the stories behind the barrels are almost as big as the barrel itself.

Waiter, There’s a band in my barrel

Heidelberg Castle of Germany, of which some structures date back before AD 1214, is the home of the world’s largest wine barrel, the Heidelberg Tun.  With a capacity of approximately 220,000 litres (58,100 U.S. gallons) This man-made mammoth was built in 1751.  Supposedly it took 130 oak trees to construct.  Oh by the way, that barrel can serve 1,859,200 4 ounce glasses.

If that weren’t enough, a large wooden platform was built with stairs leading up to it from both sides and used as a dance floor.  Can you imagine?

When Liselotte, the daughter of the Elector Karl Ludwig was given to the French Court, Emissaries from the groom’s family arrived to inspect the castle.  A banquet was held above the tun and plenty of wine was imbibed.  When the Elector proposed a toast to the guests, horns blew, drums beat and the floor shook.  Candles blew out and glasses shattered.  Fear that Satin himself and the castle were possessed, the guests ran down the stairs.

After the ruler recovers from hysterical laughter, he releases a band of trumpeters and drummers from a hidden door within the barrel.

Small Man Big Drinker

But that’s not the only legend behind the 18th century barrel.  How about a drunken Dwarven court jester that acts as keeper of the castle’s wine production.

Perkeo of Heidelberg, a notable court jester of the 18th century has become a mascot of the town.  Under Prince Phillip, he become official court jester for Heidelberg Castle.   Perkeo actually was not his real name as he was born Pankert Clemens.   Apparently Perkeo was given to Pankert because it sounded like “perché no?” meaning “why not?” in Italian because that was the answer he gave when asked if he wanted more wine.

Known to drink 5 to 8 US gallons of wine a day, he was celebrated as an impressive wine drinker despite his petit size. This was quite amusing since he was a comical tiny drunk being held responsible for the wine stock.  Apparently he was also quite the expert on wine.  Legend has it that Perkeo lived to his eighties having only drank wine but when he became ill the town doctor insist he drink water. He died the very next day.

A Beer Tsunami

You have heard of the Great Fire of London but have you heard of the Great Flood of London?  Well beer flood that is.

In London, during the Porter revolution, it was not uncommon  for one beer vat to hold thousands of barrels of beer.  It became a competition to see who could build the largest vessel.  Beer vats kept growing.  One barrel was said to host a dinner for 200 guests.  But the barrel to get the most attention was a 22-foot tall vat, holding over 135,000 imperial gallons (610,000 l) of aged porter.

October 17, 1814, a 784 pound iron hoop fell from the 22 foot barrel at Meux and Company Brewery on Tottenham Court Road, but the storehouse clerk was not concerned as this has happened before.  Before long, the vat ruptured, pouring through the brewery walls and bursting through other smaller vats causing about 320,000 gallons of beer to gush out into the street of St Giles, London.

The massive beer tsunami flooded basements, destroyed homes,  knocked down the wall of the Tavistock Arms Pub and killed 8 people.  Apparently thousands of people flocked to the new beer river to get there share of ale.  It was reported that the fumes from the beer were so strong, many suffered from intoxication.

I Will Travel For Wood

Palo Santo Tree

John Gasparine, A Baltimore Flooring company owner was on a usual trip to Paraguay to negotiate with suppliers for sustainably harvest wood.  He was introduced to a local hard wood called Palo Santo, meaning holy wood.  The oils have been used since ancient times by the Incas as a spiritual remedy for purifying and cleansing.  Palo Santo incense is also popular for reducing stress.

This wood is so dense it will sink in water.  On the Janka Scale of Hardness, which measures hardness of woods, Palo Santo measures the highest in trade wood.  This aromatic wood is also extremely durable.

They have been used in delaying pins and deadeyes on the USS Constitutions and other sailing ships.   Bearings and gears of clocks have been made from Palo Santo.  John Gasparine also heard that Palo Santo has been used in South American Wine barrels.   Gasparine, a craft beer lover himself was looking over a beer list and noticed Dogfish Head Brewery, Off centered Ales for Off Centered People.

Sam Calegione typically receives hundreds of off the wall ideas every day but when he heard what Gasparine had to say about Palo Santo wood being used as a beer barrel Sam wanted in.

A year later Sam sent Gasparine back to Paraguay for an order for forty-four hundred  feet of Palo Santo.  Sam was on his way to building the biggest wooden barrel since prohibition.  When Gasparine arrived, convincing someone to harvest Pala Santo boards proved to be a difficult task but he finally came across a crew up for the challenge.  As a demonstration in the vast forest, a giant of a man shot a .38-calibre pistol five feet from a tree to only fall pitifully to the ground.

The massive barrel stands fifteen feet high and ten feet in diameter, and holds nine thousand gallons of aged brown ale.  The barrel set Sam back about a hundred and forty thousand dollars. The oak barrel aging the Burton Baton cost three times less.

Is bigger better?  You decide.

Please comment below and share your thought.

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18 comments on “My Barrel Is Bigger Than Your Barrel

  1. Pingback: Crafty And The Beast

  2. Perhaps George R. R. Martin took some inspiration from Perkeo of Heidelberg for the character of the imp Tyrion in the Game of Thrones series 😉

    • Like wine beer was always matured and stored in barrels but that died out for quite some time until recently. Barrel aging is making a comeback. Some use burban barrels, some use wine barrels.

  3. I, too, have found a fascination with the wooden barrels when visiting wineries. It’s just not the same when you visit a winery that does all of their aging in steel bins! Where I live, they produce Crown Royal Whiskey, considered by some to be the finest Rye Whiskey in the world! They use wooden crates to age their fine whiskey.

    • I agree but there are some wine drinkers who prefer no wood aging. Some brewers age their beer in burban barrels but that can sometimes be too much. The Palo Santo is quite amazing though.

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