In the second part of my article I’m going to start with the explanation why Whisky has to be filtered anyway. As you might suspect, the cask or to be more precise the oak, is a natural product. It’s been cut in the woods, laid down to dry, just to be cut again and made into casks. Then there is of course the toasting. A cask had to endure lots of things and during the handling it is just natural, that small particles of the oak will come loose and be poured out with the final product. That is the reason nearly everyone uses filtration. Except from the Blackadder Raw Cask series I don’t know any distillery or independent bottler who has at least a part of his portfolio not filtered at all.
What does this non chill filtered, or sometimes just short n.c.f., mean? Well, you can either filter the Whisky at room temperature or cool it down as low as zero to minus four degrees Celsius. The second method is referred to as chill filtration, so n.c.f. just means, the Whisky is filtered but not cooled down for the filtration. Does the temperature make a difference? Yes, it does. Whisky doesn’t freeze at zero degrees Celsius as water does (because of the >40% alcohol) but some substances (manly esters, fatty acids and proteins) start to precipitate around that temperature. And as you might suspect (correctly!) solids tend to be stopped by a filter. Unfortunately these substances are (also) carrying some flavours, therefore the taste of the Whisky is altered. Of course you’ll never know how that Whisky would have tasted without a chill filtration. Using the „normal“ filtration an room temperature will keep the substances mentioned above in the liquid state, therefore in the filtered Whisky.
So could there be any good reason to chill filter and add coulor a Whisky? Well, I can understand the distilleries. Especially if we’re talking about Blended Whisky. The product should taste and look always the same. It can be a real pain in the a**, to explain why this batch is a little bit lighter in colour than the batch from two years. And that it really makes no difference. To keep the customer satisfied they tend to colour their Whisky. But the problem is, if you colour the Whisky, it can happen that the Whisky get’s cloudy at low temperatures (remember what I said about the chill filtration above?). The added colour works as a precipitating agent. That’s the reason for the chill filtration when bottling a coloured Whisky. This precipitation can also appear in non chill filtered (and of course not filtered) Whiskys as well as in Whiskys bottled at cask strength but in that case it is not a sign of low quality, indeed it is a sign of high quality! Why? Because this clouding will vanish when the Whisky reaches room temperature again, opposed to the clouding in the coloured Whisky. The latter one you will have to throw away. What a waste of Whisky! But there can be another reason for the clouding too. If the Whisky is bottled at lower alcohol (typically 40 to 46%) and coloured but not chill filtered and water (or even ice) is added, clouding can also happen. With the same result as above, you’ll have to dump the Whisky.
As a member of the SMWS you might say, that I’m biased in the decision „to colour or not to colour“ but I’m not. Yes, I like non coloured Whiskys because I want to see (and taste) the influence of the cask. Yes, I like non chill filtered Whiskys because they tend to be more oily and smooth at the palate. Yes, I like cask strength Whiskys but I don’t despise a Whisky with lower alcohol contend. So what is my verdict? Of course I tend to select my Whiskys not only by taste alone. I take into consideration every information I get. How’s the nose? How does it look in the glass? Is it coloured? Do I like the taste on the palate? Finish? If I say that a possible colouration doesn’t influence my verdict would be a lie. But I don’t reject a Whisky just because of the fact that it is coloured (and chill filtered). I taste every Whisky at least two times. Especially if I don’t like it after the first tasting. There’s a possibility that I had a bad (tasting) day. If I don’t like it, so be it. There are at least as much different tastes out there as Whiskys on the market! In my article about glass ware I wrote something like „Drink the Whisky in that manner you like it best“. Same here, I’ll (buy) and drink my Whisky according to my likings. If I find it worth the money, I have no problem if it’s coloured. I prefer uncoloured ones but, never the less, I have (some) coloured in my cabinet that I like very much.
There’s a (Scottish?) proverb, some say it is by William Faulkner, some say Raymond Chandler but whoever invented it, it’s worth to be shared! „There’s no such thing as bad Whisky. Some Whiskys just happen to be better than others.“ (or „There’s is no bad Whisky. There are only some Whiskys that aren’t as good as others“).