When a Butt was a proper unit of measurement for wine or whiskey

From Medieval times, a butt was a measurement of wine or whiskey.

You could officially say you had a butt load of wine if you consumed 475 liters or 126 gallons(!).

The eye-opening cycle of English alcohol measurements as given in  a “Dorset Book of Folk Songs” is as follows : nipperkin, quarter pint, half pint, pint, quart, (no bottle or half gallon), gallon, flagon (instead of peck).

It proceeds to the firkin, then jumps to the barrel, the hogshead, the butt, and finally the tun.

The word actually comes from “botte,” a Medieval French and Italian word for boot.

In Italy, at least, botte is still used to refer to a wine cask.

One butt of wine equals 126 U.S. gallons (about 475 liters).

When William Warham was enthroned as archbishop of Canterbury in 1503,  wine, ale, and beer were procured in alarming quantities. They include the following:

“6 pipes of red wine; 4 pipes of claret; 1 pipe of choice wine; 1 pipe of white wine for the kitchen; 1 pipe of wine of Osey; 1butt of Malmsey; 2 tierces of Rhenish wine; 4 tuns of London ale; 6 tuns of Kentish ale, and 20 tuns of English beer”

The Entire Butt

In the early 18th century, the popular beer was called “three threads” , a combo of the old sweet ale, the new bitter beer, and a weaker beer to water it down.

To pour even one pint required three casks of beer!

A beer called “Entire Butt”(so called because it only needed one barrel or butt) filled the gap.


At 7% alcohol, it became such a staple of working-class life that it was named for the the most typical job in London – the porter.


The cask of drinking water, wine or beer on ships was called a scuttlebutt.

To scuttle is to drill a hole, as for tapping a cask, and a butt, as we now know, was the large cask.

Just like the water cooler today, people share gossip when they stop to drink.

Scuttlebutt became U.S. Navy slang for gossip or rumors.

Other lesser known, but equally interesting  words for measurements include the kilderkin at 18 gallons, the nine-gallon firkin ( also called a rundlet) and finally, a pin.

Leave a Reply