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!

21 thoughts on “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.

  2. 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. 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. 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.

    • Tradition is all they teach us here in Knoxville,TN….Having said that,I always go straight for the Jack Daniels because my father was in the Air Force and, my son was on the front lines in Iraq. Funny thing Obama signed my fathers certificate when he died, just as my son was returning home for good. Anyway, this week 6 Irish Car Bombs later. Jameson not too bad on the palate…..My son had a lay over in Ireland as did my father returning to the states.

  5. 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. 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.

    • Not at all. You can achieve double distillation via a Thumper Keg or certain variety of re-flux tubing. Or ……the way I do it is water it down with distilled water to about 70 proof or 35% alc and then re-distill it. Makes for a great spirit vodka or rum or whiskey aka BBQ Jack Daniel Wood Chips in your bottled spirit aged for 10 days…….fools my friends every-time, they still cant believe I made it.

  7. Scotch (Johnny Walker) isn’t bad straight, but Jameson’s I’m finding is too “scotchy” around the sweetness. I’m after a “honey”, “plum” or whatever whiskey. I do have a sweet tooth with coffee etc. Any tips? JD is my favourite bourbon, but bourbons aren’t for straight drinking down here in Australia. Too sweet for straight to me. Any ideas boys (and girls)?

    • Mark, hope you are drinking well down below. I sip my Jameson on the rocks with a Worther’s Coffee Caramel hard candy (crushed and splattered over the rocks. That might give you the “honey” you’re looking to savor. I was born and raised in Tennessee, so I can assure you JD is not a bourbon. In fact us wkiskey drinkers around here prefer Dickel (12 yr yellow label) to Jack. If bourbon is your thing, move up to Maker’s, or for pure fire go with Bullit Family. For mid shelf, Knob Creek or Turkey (80-101) is also a good winter drink. Sip well.

  8. My beleif is it is cut back with distilled water and re distilled. This being a pot still im led to beleive wont distill beyond 80%. Ive heard that the practice came from old dostilling practices before stills were refined and as good as they are today. Being that a third distilation removes unwanted characters that today would be in the second.
    I would honestly be suprised if anything that co tributes to what is usually called mouth feel carrys over in distillation, although oaking of a spirit heavily influences mouthfeel with compounds that a released into the spirit ie tanins

  9. Had a bar man try to convince me a redbreast was superior to a caol ila the other day, his reasoning was triple distillation. I find no evidence of this process producing a better drink, granted each has his own preference but I don’t believe triple distilling is the measure of any dram.

  10. I am trying to find out if all distilled spirits are clear of colour before they are aged or processed. short answers please

  11. SKKY is triple distilled and they claim to have left the real crud behind – including acetone the solvent used to remove nail polish. It would be good to know what is in the bottle – not the ingredients that are later removed – but what is left and what we are really drinking.

  12. There is a reason most distilleries refuse to bring up the proof to more than 160-170. It really takes away much of the taste. Besides, Brown Vodka , sometimes called canadian vodka or even canadian whisky is considered too clean to call real wiskey. What you gain in sales popularity from a few really strong or very clean Whisky types hardly makes a huge impact within the whisky community.

  13. SIngle distillation is the way yo go to keep the complex taste, profile from the core material a liquor is made from. When one double or triple distills something , the end product needs water to cut to a drinkable level of 40 proof plus adding coloring aside one gets some from the oak barrel. The only liquor that does single distillation is Armagnac brandy. I like whisky and I have deep affection to Armagnac. Try them. I await for some whisky distiller to come up with a single distilled one.

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