England, barrel of beer and of ale

Barrels of beer and ale, and of wine, are subdivided from the tun. The surviving subdivisions indicate that the original tun must have been 256 gallons, but by 1347 it had been 252 gallons for so long that the King's commissioners could not explain the loss of the 4 gallons.

By at least 1454 the barrel of ale contained 32 gallons (one-eighth of the original, 256-gallon tun), and the barrel of beer contained 36 gallons. An act of 1531 (23 Henry VIII chap. 4) confirmed these figures. By Elizabeth I's time, the gallons referred to were ale gallons of 282 cubic inches.

In 1688 (1 William and Mary chap. 24, sec. 4)1, the barrel of both beer and ale was set at 34 ale gallons. (London, however, persisted in using a 36-gallon beer barrel and a 32-gallon ale barrel.) The barrel of vinegar was also made 32 gallons.

In 1803 (43 George II chap. 69, sec. 12),2 the barrel of ale or beer was raised to 36 gallons.

When the imperial gallon replaced both the ale and wine gallon in 1824, the nominal capacity of the barrel and related units, in gallons, was retained, but their actual capacities decreased.

hogshead

barrel

kilderkin

2

3

firkin

2

4

6

15th–17th centuries, ale gallons

8

16

32

48

15th–17th centuries, beer gallons

9

18

36

54

1688–1803, beer & ale gallons

17

34

51

1803–1824, beer & ale gallons

9

18

36

54

1824–2000, imperial gallons

9

18

36

54

1. Statutes at Large Vol 3, page 406.

2. Statutes at Large Vol 15, page 848.

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