Sunday, May 23, 2010

Chill Filtering: The Circumcising of Scotch

I apologize for the provocative title of this blog entry, but I needed this heading to reflect how outrageous the chill-filtering of single malt scotch whisky is. Chill-filtering is a process used during the production of spirits that removes any natural oils and proteins in the liquor, thus preventing the drink from becoming cloudy when cold liquids or ice are added. This superficial process has been used for decades, beginning with the mass export of single malt whisky to North America. It is a cosmetic and unnecessary process that is becoming less and less popular as consumers smarten up and demand whisky from the cask.

This sucky process is quick and simple. It involves lowering the temperature of aged single malt to zero degrees and then straining it through a series of extremely fine metal mesh filters. Everything but the pure alcohol hardens slightly and can be removed by the filters.

In addition to removing vital oils and flavours, this irritating and deceitful process also extracts colour. Most people do not realize that the vast majority of whiskies (not just single malts) are coloured with caramel dye E150a after production and filtration is complete.   

There are several unchill-filtered single malts that BC Liquor Stores carry regularly:

Arran (Non-Islay Island) - 10 Year
With a light body and short, citrussy finish, this whisky provides a drinkable dram that would be suitable as an aperitif. It is also one of the more affordable unchill-filtered single malts at $70.00CAD.

Macallan Cask Strength (Speyside) - 10 Year
Cask strength whiskies are not for the novice scotch drinker. After distilling the wash (beer) in those classic copper stills, the new-make spirit (at an alcohol content of between 60-70%) is pumped into Oak bourbon casks to mature. During maturation, the spirits take on characteristics from the casks, and also evaporate by about 2% per annum. As you can imagine, the alcohol that emerges from these barrels after 8-10 years of aging is potent; therefore, pure spring water is usually added to the whisky prior to bottling. Some distilleries, however, bottle their product straight from the cask, so hardcore enthusiasts can sample their product in an unadulterated, unchill-filtered fashion. At 58% alcohol, this 10-year Macallan often requires a dribble of water before it is consumed. This estery, spicy firecracker of a scotch is priced at $95.00CAD.

Springbank Longrow (Campbeltown) - 10 Year    
I am actually impressed that BC Liquor Control is carrying this scotch because Campbeltown whiskies are rare to begin with. This is not only a Campbeltown whisky made by one of the last hand-malting distilleries in Scotland, it is also one of the most authentic tasting single malts being produced anywhere, due to its pure-peat smoking process, lack of filtration, and small batch production. Again, this is not a dram for the faint of heart, but it is one of the most unique and manly scotches available in BC. It will make you want to start smoking a pipe, and it is priced at $90.00CAD.

* Keywords: Vancouver Scotch, "Alexander Dawkins Vancouver", Chill-Filtering 

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