You’re likely here as your bottle or glass of bourbon has suddenly turned cloudy. If so, you have no need to worry, as the cloudiness won’t affect the bourbon’s taste. But let’s be honest… the cloudiness is far from attractive. Who wants to see stuff floating around in their drink? Keep reading to find out why bourbon goes cloudy.
Why Does Bourbon Get Cloudy?
Bourbon gets cloudy if it is not chill filtered. This means that any bourbon that is contaminated with water will start developing a cloudy haze. This isn’t such a problem if the bourbon in your glass is cloudy, but cloudiness in your bottle can turn into solid clumps of ‘funk’.
Bourbon that isn’t chilled before bottling is prone to becoming cloudy. Now, this won’t affect the bourbon’s taste, but it does result in an unhappy consumer. With so many of us disliking the cloudiness of whiskey, distillers have no choice but to chill their bourbon before bottling it.
Distillers are averse to doing this, as the chill filtration process can remove some of the bourbon’s flavor. It removes esters, fatty acids, and a range of proteins. An advanced process involves keeping the bourbon in temperatures as low as 10˚F, making it floc, and then running the bourbon through a pressure-leaf filter. Doing it correctly will remove the unwanted floc, but still keep the bourbon’s delicious flavor.
Some distillers swap the chill process out for a carbon filtration process to remove floc. This process gives clearer bourbon, but is known to remove more of the flavor. It’s a balancing act.
What is Chill Filtration?
Chill filtration is the process of reducing the temperature of a liquid, so that unwanted proteins, acids, and esters separate from the liquid, and are then filtered from the liquid.
When it comes to bourbon, the liquid is chilled to below 0°C, which is just enough to filter out the fatty acids.
The chill filtration process is not a cheap or fast process. There are multiple steps and factors to take into account before a chill filtered whiskey is created. Distillers need to experiment with the temperature, quantity of filters, and machine speed. It’s a doubled-edged sword, as a slow process with remove more impurities, but also raise the costs by a considerable margin.
Some bourbon connoisseurs believe that this process negatively affects the taste of the bourbon, especially the smokiness that bourbon is famously known for. As such, there are some distilleries that refuse to use chill filtration methods. They believe their bourbon is more natural and authentic, which attracts a certain consumer to their brand. Springbank distillery is a famous bourbon distillery that refuses to put their bourbon through the chill filtration process.
Is My Bourbon Non-Chill Filtered?
The label should reveal whether your bourbon is non-chill filtered or not. If you cannot find such a claim, there are a few ways to determine what type of bourbon you own:
- Give it a shake –Twist and turn the bottle, and then let the whiskey drip down the inside of the glass. Non-chill bourbon will usually have a cloudy residue inside the liquid
- Leave it in a glass – Non-chill bourbon will become opaque when left out all night
- Freeze the bottle – Put your bottle of bourbon inside the freezer for a few moments. You should look for cloudiness when the temperature is under 30˚F. If not, then the bourbon is most likely bourbon filtered
It is important to note that high-proof bourbons are hard to inspect. Precipitation occurs more frequently in bourbon that has a higher content of water. In fact, bourbons with a 46% alcohol volume don’t need to be chill filtered at all, as the haze cannot form in such conditions. This means that the haze particles are dependent on the concentration of alcohol.
Does Chill Filtered Whiskey Taste Differently?
There isn’t a set answer to this question, but studies suggest that there is no difference between chill filtered and non-chill filtered bourbon. Click here to read the full study by Horst Luening.
Some bourbon connoisseurs disagree with the study by claiming that the filtration process changes the bourbon flavor. However, it isn’t possible to directly compare, as distilleries don’t release both forms of bourbon.
Spontaneous Cloud Formation
There is one more reason why you may get cloudiness in your bourbon, and it is not easy to explain. This is a theory known as spontaneous cloud formation, and it occurs in high humidity environments.
Let’s get scientific for a moment… Alcohol is able to do something called “hydrogen bond”, which means the alcohol is able to absorb water vapour from the humid air. The ethanol also evaporates quicker than water. Combine these two statements, and you can see how the non-chill filtered bourbon can fall below 46% alcohol content, and then start forming a haze.
So, that’s why bourbon gets cloudy. To confirm, bourbon gets cloudy if it is not chill filtered. This means that any bourbon that is contaminated with water will start developing a cloudy haze. This isn’t such a problem if the bourbon in your glass is cloudy, but cloudiness in your bottle can turn into solid clumps of ‘funk’.
Bourbon that isn’t chilled before bottling is prone to becoming cloudy. Now, this won’t affect the bourbon’s taste, but it leaves customer unhappy. With so many customers disliking the cloudiness of whiskey, distillers have no choice but to chill their bourbon before bottling it.