Commercial Barrel-Aging

How we add belly bungs to head bung whiskey barrels

By Ben Loseke

February 7th, 2022

Image of drilling a belly bung hole into a barrel
A Midwest Barrel Co. team member drills a belly bung hole into the side of a head bung whiskey barrel.

Used bourbon and whiskey barrels aren’t easy to find right now. If you’re a brewer or you’re in charge of a brewery’s barrel program, then you have probably noticed this for yourself.

The supply of used whiskey barrels for sale is lower than it's been in a long time because many distilleries are sending their used barrels to other brands under the same ownership or are selling to single, large customers who are looking to barrel-age their products. This has meant price increases for just about everyone else in the business.

But it’s also meant that the Midwest Barrel Co. team and I have put our heads together to try and brainstorm ways to cut our costs and pass those savings onto our partner breweries, wineries, cideries and others.

A new option for barrel buyers

When we talk about small barrels, we’re actually talking about a range of different sizes. Midwest Barrel Co. sells new, small format barrels in the following sizes:

Introducing: head bung barrels with added belly bungs!

All right, you caught me. This multiple bunghole concept isn’t new, although the belly bungs are new to these barrels.

You see, we’ve been getting in a healthy number of these used whiskey barrels that have bungs in the heads, but not in the side where most people expect to see a hole. That is what seems to trip up most folks.

But I’ve collected a wealth of information on head bung barrels – and why you should consider adding belly bungs to them.

What you should know about head bung barrels

We’ve told you about head bung whiskey barrels before, but here’s a quick summary:

• They age whiskey (and beer) just as well as belly bung barrels.

• They are stored vertically and can be stacked on pallets – which actually conserves space compared to storing horizontally on racks.

• They are filled and emptied from the top. This can sometimes be a headache for brewers because it sometimes means they different equipment – but we’ve solved this issue!

Let’s talk about the third point. That’s the top reason why most brewers don’t want to go with barrels that have head bungs if they don’t have to.

Why? For one, some brewers find that the equipment that they normally use to empty beer when it’s done aging in barrels doesn’t quite work without some change of technique or different equipment entirely.

Also, we’re all creatures of habit to some degree. If you have a bunch of traditional racks with barrels stored on their sides, then it’s probably just easier to keep them all that way.

The truth is that I understand.

But like I said from the outset of this blog post, we’re in a barrel shortage. Many breweries are finding themselves in a crunch. They still need barrels, but future inventories, let alone wait times, are uncertain.

So, we decided we’d drill holes into the head bung barrel bellies in order to make them able to be filled and emptied from the side.

Did I mention this is an option we do at no cost – absolutely free? All you have to do is make sure you’re ordering the head bung barrel listing that includes the free belly bung.

How we added belly bungs

Now, for those of you who want to know more about our process – and I don’t blame you, I would, too – here’s how we add belly bungs to barrels with head bungs.

1. First, a customer has to order from the head and belly bung listing. We’re not drilling holes ahead of time because not everyone wants that extra hole.

2. Then, a member of our barrel crew pulls a barrel (or multiple) and locates a wide stave that is in good condition so it can withstand the drilling process.

3. One of our barrel crew members then measures to find and mark the exact center of that stave. This is where the hole will be drilled

4. We will then drill a hole using a 2-inch bit. That will create a hole large enough to fit a standard wood or silicone #11 barrel bung. A standard drill did the job, but we’ve since upgraded our drill to make the process easier and more efficient. We are careful to keep the drill bit, barrel exterior and the area surrounding the barrel sanitary throughout the drilling process.

5. As a final option, you can seal the head bunghole with barrel wax to make sure it remains tight and secure. We’ve tested this process before and have never seen any barrels leak, though, so this would be for your peace of mind.

Please note that unless your barrels are shipping internationally, there won’t be any need to swell them before filling.

You can watch the entire process – tested and approved – right here or in the video above.

How we tested for leaks

I knew in advance that the first question about these barrels would be whether or not they might leak. Nobody wants any beer lost down the drain. That’s why we filled our first head and belly bung barrels with water and let them sit for a good, long while to see whether any water would leak from any part of the barrel.

As you can see in our first video, when I checked in on the barrels to see how they were doing holding liquid, there were absolutely no leaks whatsoever.


Of course, like all of our other liquid grade barrels, these are also backed by our Damn. Good. Barrels. Guarantee that they will be leak free if filled within 30 days of purchase.

Order barrels today!

Ready to get to barrel-aging? These Templeton Rye Whiskey head and belly bung barrels are a great option that will definitely add delicious whiskey flavor to your beer, cider, wine or anything else you age inside them.

And, as always, keep an eye out for other barrels that may become available soon!


Ben Loseke headshot


Ben Loseke

Ph.D., and Founder of Midwest Barrel Co. Barrel expert. Plant doctor. American picker. Only known allergies: spicy food and meetings.

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