What is a 'chill filtered' whisky?
Take a chill pill
Those nights of drinking, smoking and political discussions catch up with us all. If you’ve ever looked at yourself in the mirror and thought: if I zapped those age spots with a laser, I’d still be me just with more Tinder matches, then you’ve had the same inner struggle as master distillers. Chill filtering is a cosmetic procedure for whisky.
Why do distilleries use chill filtration?
Why would you inject a military grade neurotoxin into your face? Because it makes you look better, obviously. A non-filtered whisky that is 46% ABV or lower will go cloudy when you add water or ice. Chill filtering makes your whisky look sexier in the glass. Whiskies above 46% ABV do not require chill filtration, because the higher alcohol level stops this cloudiness. Some people think you need a little help to look your best, a bit like Dolly Parton.
What causes cloudiness in whisky?
Cloudiness is caused by fatty acids, esters and proteins that occur naturally during the distillation process. Some of these ‘impurities’ also come from the casks during maturation. When the whisky is cooled, the gunk clumps together and gives the cloudy effect. A whisky that isn’t chill filtered will likely get some sediment in the bottle if stored in a cool place, a bit like Dolly Parton.
What can you do about cloudy whisky?
During chill filtering, the whisky is cooled to between -10° and 4° Celsius and passed through a series of tightly-knit metallic meshes or paper. The amount of residue collected depends on the number of filters, the pressure used and the speed with which it is done. During this process, any other sediment or impurities from the cask (called 'coals') are also be removed. The slower a whisky is passed through the filters at a lower pressure, then the more residue will be collected - but this is also more expense for the distillery. As Dolly Parton once said: ‘It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.’
Is chill filtration bad?
Some people believe the process affects the taste of the whisky, for example by removing some peat particles that give the smoky flavour. These opponents are convinced that removing particles must alter the aroma, flavour and characteristics. Aberlour Distillery's distinctively flavoured A'bunadh whisky and Laphroaig's Quarter Cask bottles pride themselves on not being chill-filtered. But filter advocates think that’s hogwash and say the taste and characteristics remain intact while filtering gives better control to produce high quality whisky.
In reality, it is difficult to compare because no one releases the same whisky in a chill-filtered and non-chill-filtered forms. But we think everyone will agree, no 70-year-old looks like Dolly Patron.