At Douglas Laing & Co., we firmly abide by the ethos that Whisky should only ever be presented as the Distiller intended. This means that once Whisky is drawn from the Cask, nothing is added or taken away. As a result, we proudly offer our Whisky free of artificial colouring and chill-filtration. Artificial colouring is self-explanatory in its nature – it’s added to the Whisky to make it visually more appealing. But, what exactly is the process of chill filtration and why do we as a company choose to avoid it?
Like with artificial colouring, the process of chill filtration is employed for primarily cosmetic purposes. Whisky that has not been chill-filtrated and is exposed to cold temperatures will take on a cloudy appearance. Additionally, Whisky that is stored in cool conditions may also form sediment as a result of the chemical reaction that occurs.
Although this process is entirely natural – and not in any way harmful to consume, it’s not unusual for the casual Whisky drinker to believe the product is faulty after adding water or ice. Over the years, Whisky firms have attempted to reduce the number of returned products by introducing the process of chill filtration into the manufacturing line.
The process of distillation and maturation are responsible in the formation of naturally occurring fatty acids, proteins and esters within Whisky. When Whisky is exposed to colder temperatures, the chemical reaction that occurs bonds the esters, proteins and acids together, creating a hazy appearance.
This cloudiness, however, only occurs in Whisky that has a lower ABV than 46%. Lower strength Whiskies often have more water added at the filling stage, allowing for the chemical reaction to take place more quickly when exposed to a colder conditions. Cask Strength Whisky will not typically turn cloudy when chilled.
Chill filtration involves reducing the temperature of the Whisky to zero degrees Celsius or below. How far the temperature is reduced is dependent on the type of Whisky being chill-filtrated – for instance, Grain Whisky has a lower temperature threshold than that of a Malt. Once the Whisky has been suitably chilled, it is then passed through a number of filters to strip out any residue left by the Cask.
Chill filtration is not a strict set of steps – different companies will follow slightly different processes. Factors such as the pressure used to process a Whisky can impact the cost of filtration, and as a result, some Distilleries may opt to be more economical in their processes, ultimately contributing to a less “filtered” Whisky.
Cloudiness is undeniably a visual deterrent when it comes to drinking Whisky – it plain and simply just doesn’t look all that appetising. But, looking beyond the psychological barrier, a significant number of studies suggest that chill filtration does in fact impact flavour – and not necessarily for the better.
As explored by our Douglas Laing Fellow, Dr. Heinz Weinberger, esters can very much be regarded as the “stars” of the Whisky world – their presence can drastically impact the taste and aroma of a Whisky. For instance, the ester known as ethyl acetate is known to produce an aroma of green apples in a low concentration and its cousin, ethyl butyrate, an aroma of pineapple – the list goes on.
The process of chill filtration strips out many of these esters and can result in a less flavoursome dram.
Furthermore, Whisky that has been chill filtered arguably also loses its desired creamy, thick and oily-texture - with non-chill filtrated Whiskies, it’s not unusual after swirling around the spirit to notice the liquid clinging to the glass.
We ultimately choose not to filter as we believe the process can fundamentally change the experience of drinking a Whisky. Making a great Whisky cannot be rushed – and given the skills, expertise, craft and patience needed to mature an exceptional dram, it seems a shame to change a product that is already perfect.
-Douglas Laing & Co
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