Despite its cool-headed name, chill filtering is no doubt one of the most hotly debated topics amongst whisky lovers, newcomers and old-timers alike. Detractors, often puritanical, argue that this amounts to “castration”, ridding the nectar of much of its innate character. Proponents, usually permissive, argue that this is but a cosmetic process to remove residue, which has little effect on the taste of the final product.
Chill filtering is, in a nutshell, a pre-bottling process wherein the nectar is artificially cooled down to around freezing point, generally between +4 and -10 centigrades, and pushed through absorption filter(s). Single malts are usually chilled down to freezing point, whereas blended whiskies are to lower temperatures, since they contain lower levels of “impure” substances. The theory is that low temperatures cause “impure” substances such as esters, fatty acids and proteins to emerge and thereby be filtered.
Whether chill filtering is beneficial or detrimental very much depends on whether one sees what is filtered out as impure or natural. Proponents argue that chill filtering merely removes cloudiness as well as prevents haziness and sediments, which either does not affect taste or marginally improves it. Detractors argue that chill filtering removes much of the innate characteristics of the whisky, which reduces its distinct flavours.
The fact to the matter is, whether and how much chill filtering affects the taste of the final product depends on the exact temperature, number of filters and speed of filtering. Brininess, peatiness and smokiness tend to be more affected than are maltiness and woodiness. Unfortunately – or perhaps predictably due to commercial reasons – few if any distilleries have ever released the same whisky in two version, standard chill-filtered and non-chill filtered, and so experiment by controlled environment is not possible.
Rich citrine with bright golden reflex, the effervescent nose radiates cantaloupe, papaya, meringue, daffodil and sea waves. With a sprightly mouthfeel, the ebullient palate oozes jackfruit, pineapple, butterscotch, bonfire smoke and fleur de sel. Medium-bodied at a robust 46%, the pristine entry evolves into a high-spirited mid-palate, leading to a cleansing finish. This delightful dram has to be one of the finest 14-year-olds on the market.
Frown upon newcomers at your peril. Founded in 1993 by Harold Currie, former Managing Director of Chivas Brothers’, Arran has garnered numerous prizes on the international stage with its puristic approach no peat, no chill filtering and no caramel colouring. This is the first legal distillery on the eponymous Isle of Arran since 1837, prior to which there used to be half a century of illegal ones operating. Full of brio and gusto, the distillery is not afraid to experiment with a wide variety of casks.
Named after Scapa Flow, the distillery was founded in 1885 and briefly mothballed during the 1990s. The location is of iconic significance in history, having served as the northern base of the Royal Navy during both WWI and WWII, and the Imperial German High Seas Fleet was scuttled there in the aftermath of WWI to avoid falling into the hands of Allied Powers. Scapa has been a key component in Ballantine’s, arguably the most elegant of blended scotch.
Luminous amber with saturated golden reflex, the debonair nose effuses dried peach, shortbread, toffee, maple and thistle. With a buttery mouthfeel, the urbane palate emanates dried fig, buttered toast, salted caramel, white oak and heather. Medium-full bodied at 40%, the poised entry continues through a luxurious mid-palate, leading to a harmonious finish. A gentlemanly tipple, charming but not challenging.
Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain, France, and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages