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Don’t Laugh, But Really: What Is a Bunghole?

And how do you cauterize it humanely?

A charred barrel lies on its side with its round opening facing up. Resting on the barrel is a long metal pipette, a cork, and a wooden mallet. SergeBertasiusPhotography/Shutterstock

It’s no surprise that we have a weird thing for barrels here at Eater. We’ve visited the Adirondack Barrel Cooperage in Ramsen, NY, and traveled to Loretto, KY to witness the Maker’s Mark factory in action. Now, on this week’s Gastropod, hosts Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley are leading us even deeper into the fire pot to learn more about barrels’ importance. Can using a different kind of wood to make barrels open up a whole new world of whiskey and wine flavors — and restore a vanishing ecosystem?

But before we let Cynthia and Nicola get into that, let’s get the important question out of the way: What exactly is a bunghole? Those who binged MTV in the ‘90s might know it from Beavis and Butt-Head and believe it or not, “bunghole” has actually been a slang term for an anus since the 1600s. People from New England are possibly familiar with Bunghole Liquors, a booze shop with the subtle slogan “WE’RE NOT #1 BUTT WE’RE RIGHT UP THERE” in Peabody and Salem, MA.

But the word “bunghole” — are you tired of me saying it yet? BUNGHOLE, BUNGHOLE, BUNGHOLE — actually refers to the hole drilled into the side of the barrel, which is then sealed with a cork so you can eventually get your whisky or wine out. The hole is cauterized (ouch) to smooth and harden the wood, making it water tight. So you see, painful as it sounds, it’s all for the good of the barrel and its contents.

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