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Issue 103 - The Joy of Re-fill

Whisky Magazine Issue 103
April 2012


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The Joy of Re-fill

Gavin D. Smith looks at the recurring use of casks

If first-fill sherry and Bourbon casks are the stars of the Scotch whisky world, then refill casks are the equivalent of those actors and actresses you see in television dramas and vaguely recognise, but can never quite put a name to. However, as in the world of thespians, for every headline-making, red carpet-walking ‘celeb' a hundred journeymen are quietly plying their trade and making vital contributions to the profession.

So first of all, just what is a ‘refill' cask? In terms of Scotch whisky it as a cask which has already experienced one fill of whisky after its initial fill of sherry, Bourbon or anything else legally allowable for that matter. Somewhat confusingly, then, a second-fill cask has actually been filled three times, but only twice with Scotch whisky.

Sandy Hyslop is Ballantine's master blender for Chivas Brothers, and he declares: “Refill casks are certainly not to be looked down on. They are a vital tool for the blender. Refill casks are very, very important to our company, particularly when it comes to blending. They give me extra complexity, I can temper oak effects by their use and they help to provide continuity in older blends.

“If there are lots of first fill casks in your blend it will bring big flavours. We are talking about blended and single malt Scotch whisky, really. For example, with The Glenlivet 12 Years Old, I don't want the influence of casks to overpower the distillery character, so there will be a proportion of second and even ...

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