What does triple distilled mean and does it matter?

auchentonshan-triple-distillationAuchentoshan bills itself (the Long Version explanation is absolutely fascinating) as the only triple distilled single malt scotch. It’s one of those phrases that gets used in marketing and I never really knew what impact it had on whisky.

The bigger question is… does it matter? That is debatable.

Let’s first talk about what triple distillation is and what it might mean, then follow that up with a look at whether or not it makes for a better whisky.

What is triple distilled?

If we remember back to the steps in making whisky, we know that distillation is the step that happens after fermantation but before maturation in the barrel. What you’re getting out of the distillation process is mostly alcohol, often called new make whisky. It’s clear, mostly alcohol, and most Scotch whisky is only distilled twice. (interestingly enough, most Irish pot still whiskey is distilled three times)

Every time you distill, you increase the alcohol by volume because you are taking the products of one still and putting it into a second one. For the exactly process, Whisky Science has a great writeup of triple distillation as well as some history.

Is it better?

The more you distill, the more heavy components are left behind. So it’s believed that triple distilled whiskies are “lighter” because that third distillation removes more of the heavier components. The heavier components are like oils and proteins which contribute to body, mouthfeel, while the lighter ones are like esters that contribute to the aroma and scent.

Finally, maybe there’s a reason Auchentoshan is one of the only single malts that uses triple distillation. Maybe it doesn’t matter enough for the others to do it. While it makes for a fine distinction, it’s a differentiator, but I doubt you’d say they make the absolute “best whisky in the world.”

In the 2013 SF Spirits Competition, Auchentoshan Three Wood Single Malt Scotch won a Double Gold while their classic won a silver. So they win awards but they hardly run the table.

There’s also the issue of cost and time versus quality. You can’t argue that distilling a third time takes more time and has to cost more, there’s no getting around it. If it made for a better whisky, you might see premium brands doing it and touting it on their branding… but they don’t.

That said, triple distilled isn’t bad either. Just another wrinkle to add to an already complex spirit… which makes it all the more fun!

About Jim

Jim is the founder of Scotch Addict and one of the many fans of whisky in all its forms. Connect with me on Google+.
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9 Responses to What does triple distilled mean and does it matter?

  1. Great information Jim!
    Ya know, in the early days there were several distilleries in Scotland that used to triple distill, but as time went by, some dropped their triple-distillation practice and others simply went out of business. One of those that I would have loved to try was Talisker, one of favourite malts.
    Talisker started distilling in 1831, and most of their malt was triple distilled, until 1928. No doubt, this would have been a lighter malt than the Talisker we all know and love today.
    So, in the 1800’s when Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “”The king o’ drinks, as I conceive it, Talisker…”, it was a triple-distilled whisky that he favoured.
    Would he think the same of todays double-distilled Talisker?
    Me thinks he would he would like it too.
    8^)

  2. K. Michael says:

    I am a Islay fan, Laphroaig (cask strength) iss my stand by. I recently tried their Cairdeas port wood edition and was blown away. I take it Talisker would be a whole lot lighter than an Islay…

  3. Aaron says:

    Thank you for the explanation. I’ve often wondered what triple distilled means and if it is kind of like premium gas – a little better but the difference is negligible.

  4. Andy says:

    Don’t forget most Irish whiskeys are triple distilled and having tried both Scotch and Irish too many times over the years I still think the Irish whiskeys come out on top. Jameson at the moment have several new whiskeys all of which are gorgeous. Personally I am quiet happy with the ordinary Jameson original though–I just think they’re better on the nose, for taste and have a great finish.

  5. Kevin says:

    The Robert Louis Stevenson quote in full is
    The King O Drinks as I conceive it Talisker, Islay and The Livet.
    In RLS time all of these whiskies were peat smoked in a kiln. RLS was referring to the peat reek.
    Glenlivet broke from this tradition after the age of rail, when coal was used instead of peat. It became a trend on Speyside and throughout the Highlands.
    There is no better whisky or whiskey, they are all simply different. A peat lover will not look beyond the Kildaltons or Talisker, while those who prefer fruity lighter whiskies will favour the Speysides or even Lowland whiskies. Some may find the aspirgency of tannin in burgundy finished casks preferable to sherry finish or American Oak.
    My personal preference by far is ARDBEG 10, but I would never say it is better, simply it is different enough to be my personal preference.
    I find it most interesting to leave a whisky airing, cover on and off, for as long as an hour or more, while taking small sips. Most whiskies change dramatically over 1-2 hours with since then hidden aromas surfacing.

  6. Ron Nadel says:

    I think the triple distillation tradition in Scotland came from Ireland. Also, Hazelburn is triple distilled and Springbank is 2.5 Times distilled (some of the low wines being added to some of the feints in a third cycle).

    To my taste, and for my money, triple-distilling takes out too much body and flavor, generally speaking, even if the result is smooth. I often think of Irish whiskey as for the flavor-fearin’. But Bushmills Malt 16 and 21, Connemara Peated, and Knappogue 12 are three delicious (single malt) Irish whiskey exceptions.

  7. Kirk Newman says:

    Seems like it would be dangerous to put 80 proof in another still and bring it back to a boil?

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