Chill (and other) filtration in rum manufacturing

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JaRiMi
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Wed Dec 10, 2008 4:19 pm

Many whisky aficionados of today swear by products which have received very little filtration and are as close to "straight from the barrel" as possible. The "least liked" filtration method of today must be chill filtration - a method in which the alcoholic substance is cooled down in temperature close to = degrees Celsius (32 f) and then pressed through mechanical filters which remove a lot of the fatty solids that have formed as the liquid has been cooled down.

This age-old process, first discussed & described around WWI in the English medical publication the Lancet, I believe, was once an industry standard practice and made sure that when adding ice cubes to whisky the drink would remain clear and not "haze up". The most common story goes to blame our American colleagues for this practice; they enjoyed a little ice in their drinks, and upon seeing the whisky go all hazy, thought it was spoiled, sending it back to the manufacturer, asking for a refund. Whether this is true or not remains a mystery to me at least, but the fact is that all blended whisky was chill-filtered and so was the vast majority of single malts. It wasn't until 1990's that we saw whiskies that were not chill filtered. Nowadays many whiskies make a point of emphasizing the non-chill filtration factor in their advertising, as well as in bottling their product at 46% (supposedly the lowest alcohol content percentage in which the water added at bottling stage does not make the whisky go hazy) instead of standard 40% or 43%. Full cask strength products are also increasingly common.

Another filtration method used for example in American whiskey is (maple) charcoal filtration. Jack Daniels of course is known for this, and their product "Gentleman Jack" claims extra mellowness for the fact that the whiskey is charcoal mellowed both before being placed in barrel as well as before bottling.

I believe that both of these filtration methods are used in rum industry, but much less fuss is made of them among rum aficionados. I wonder if this is simply due to marketing, or will we see similar battles amongst rum enthusiasts about this issue as I've seen amongst whisky hobbyists.

Personally I have posed a different question to this matter, asking "is chill filtration always a bad thing?". There are many older whiskies which are, without a doubt, smashing products. At the same time they are, without a doubt, chill-filtered, with even caramel colouring added to them. I have encountered also non-chillfiltered whiskies that made me wish they had received some further "mellowing"..

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Capn Jimbo
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Thu Dec 11, 2008 4:13 pm

This is a fascinating question. The whole idea of filtering seems more oriented toward marketing - clear appearance, or perhaps to correct a distillation. I am not aware that this is all that common in rum making, but I really don't know - does anyone?

Here's an interesting thread on chill filtration from Whiskey Magazine: Link to Thread

Bottom line: both chill and charcoal filtration remove aromatics and flavor from spirit. Distillers do what they must to produce the profile they seek. If we like the result, good on them.
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Count Silvio
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Thu Dec 11, 2008 5:22 pm

I don't believe it is to correct a distillation as much as it is trying to make it look as clear as possible like you said.
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JaRiMi
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Fri Dec 12, 2008 9:34 pm

As I understand, charcoal filtering is quite common if not an industry standard parctice in the making of mass-market rums. Chill-filtration is probably also similarly common practice. Adding caramel-colouring (has of course nothing to do with filtration methods, but is shunned away from by whisky aficionados) is a norm.

A staff member at Angostura commented once to me that charcoal filtering makes older rums far more palatable, so I gather the filtering is also done to improve flavour on occasion (reduce woody bitterness). On the other hand Mr. John Barrett of Bristol Spirits was strongly stating to me that he feels this type of "improvement" of rum is not far from cheating, and is something he certainly would not do (making a reference to charcoal filtration specifically).

I am not against or for filtration as long as the end result is a good product, but in the whisky world the movement against filtration has grown to be a force to be reckoned in last 10 years. Rum world seems somewhat unaffected, which is interesting.

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Count Silvio
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Sat Dec 13, 2008 9:19 pm

I am not sure I quite understand why charcoal filtering in his opinion would be cheating since its not like anything is being added, such as flavourings, to improve the spirit. Did he explain why?

I think perhaps, rum drinkers do not take their hobby quite as seriously as the whisky drinkers, but maybe I can see where they are coming from - making a spirit without any gimmicks, like filtration, would be as close to you can get to making a "pure" spirit, which is what I imagine they want.
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Capn Jimbo
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Sun Dec 14, 2008 5:59 pm

I'm with you Count. At least I think so, though I wonder what Richard Seale would say. Perhaps I'll ask him. Seems to me that filtration is subtractive. All spirits go through some filtration at some stage, actually at several stages. In the case of rum, the crushed cane is filtered to remove bagasse. Fermented molasses or cane juice is. Stripping runs are. As are second and third runs. Before and after barreling. Before bottling.

The issue seems to be one form of filtration - chill filtering, and I'm not sure I get it. All the filtering done is substractive, surely adds nothing to the product. This seems very different than the addition of adulterants, chemicals and flavorings.
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JaRiMi
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Tue Jan 06, 2009 4:34 pm

Count Silvio wrote:I am not sure I quite understand why charcoal filtering in his opinion would be cheating since its not like anything is being added, such as flavourings, to improve the spirit. Did he explain why?
Well, it is not a matter of perhaps adding anything to the rum -- but rather taking away from it. Same thing with chill-fitlration, the objective is not so much as to add, but to remove. And this is why some enthusiasts do not like the approach, because often many (good) flavours are removed. It would be interesting to taste a product before and after, don't you think?

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Count Silvio
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Tue Jan 06, 2009 5:42 pm

Hmm, I can see how removing something could be considered as cheating but I still think it is the lesser evil between adding and removing something. Like if I removed a nasty sauce from the top of my steak it would be better, in my opinion, than if the steak was very nasty and I had to spice it up with the sauce so that I couldn't taste the nasty flavours in the steak anymore.

By sacrificing a little good to make the overall taste better is not a very bad trick in my opinion.

But yes, it would be very interesting to try a product before and after. Perhaps we can get a distiller to send us before and after samples!
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