Ask Drink Spirits: Does How Many Times Something is Distilled Matter?

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Patron Silver
At Drink Spirits we get a lot of email from imbibers asking us advice on all aspects of alcohol and drinking. We are always happy to help out! Recently we came up with the idea of bringing these questions and the advice we give into a regular column on the site. We’re hoping that these questions and answers will be helpful to you as you continue your search for great things to drink.

Dear Drink Spirits,

My wife can only drink certain spirits like Patron Silver because it was distilled three times and is 100% agave, and so she doesn’t often get hung over drinking it. Do you have advice on other things she should try?

– Rob L.

Rob,

Thanks for your note. One of my favorite sayings about distilling comes from Enrique Colsa, head distiller for Don Julio. Enrique says, “If they can’t do it in two, they don’t know what they are doing!”  Of course this doesn’t mean the Irish who distill their whiskey three times are doing anything wrong… The truth is, the number of times something is distilled really doesn’t mean that it’s any better or worse than something distilled less. When it comes to alcohol, often the number one reason people get hung over is dehydration. Our first advice is to match 8 ounces of water for every 2-3 ounces of alcohol you consume. We’re also fan of hangover prevention patches which help provide you with some of the vitamins your body loses when you drink.

Outside of basic hangover prevention, what affects you when you drink are called congeners. These elements are the compounds outside of ethyl alcohol which actually give flavor to what you are drinking. Islay Scotch Whisky, Jamaican Rum, and Mezcal all tend to have the most congeners and all are known to be starring players in pretty serious hangovers. But congeners aren’t the only factor. When alcohol is distilled, it comes off the still in three different states. The heads, which are chemical compounds that come off at low temperature, are the lightest compounds and the most toxic. Heads smell and taste bad and the more of these compounds that mistakenly find their way into your glass, the worse you feel. The heart is all the good stuff, the cleanest and most palpable part of the spirit, and where the greatest concentration of ethyl alcohol is found. The last part is the tails, which is where a lot of the heavier elements live. They can add to flavor but they are also not elements that belong in the glass and can make you feel less than fresh.

Separating these elements correctly is more important than how many times you run it through a still. Also, with different kinds of stills, the number of times you run something will be wildly different between a pot still (which your average Scotch or Irish Whiskey uses) and a column still (which is used for vodka). What a still is made out of also has an impact. Copper stills pull out heavier elements from what you distill, so running something through a copper pot still is vastly different than a stainless steel still (which many large Tequila producers use). To make matters more complicated, many spirits are filtered after aging, and this filtration process can have as much of an impact on how clean a spirit is. In the vodka space, filtering can absolutely transform a spirit.

Getting to tequila, we’ve got to applaud Patron for establishing the premium tequila market, which has exploded. They have also helped make 100% agave the key thing that consumers seek. But Patron isn’t the only good and clean option in the Tequila space. Tequila Avion is extremely well distilled and filtered better than any other tequila we’ve seen. It’s exceptionally clean and we’ve done our fair share of imbibing without paying the next morning. If money is no object, Casa Dragones is extremely clean, but it’s $275 a bottle. The same is true for Clase Azul which runs $70 a bottle. Other lesser known tequilas that are well crafted and clean include Alderete Tequila ($48) and Gran Dovejo ($44).

When someone has a reaction to one class of spirits, we always suggest trying a variety of spirits. Our textbook ‘clean’ spirit that we always recommend is Ketel One. Another spirit that promotes itself as clean is Brugal Extra Dry Rum. We’ve been to their distillery and seen their actual congener report from their spectrometer. It’s also possible to react to a spirit due to what it was distilled from, so starting with a potato vodka is always a good way to start. We like Luksusowa (a Polish potato vodka), Schramm Potato Vodka, as well as 303 Vodka from Boulder, Colorado.

The final element of the equation is what you mix with. Sugar and alcohol are partners in crime for hangovers, so if you want to avoid pain and suffering in the morning, watch your sugar. Most cocktails have a fair amount of sugar in them to balance the strong and citrus elements. This is why the vodka soda is so popular (although fairly tasteless and boring). With tequila, we love to sip it neat, we tend to drink it more slowly, and there are so many great natural flavors in there, you really get to enjoy them when they are presented ‘naked.’

Ultimately, we can’t emphasize enough to stay hydrated. Nine out of 10 times it’s the real reason you’ll feel horrible in the morning, and it’s the easiest way to enjoy a night of drinking.

– Drink Spirits

Have a question you’d like to see us answer? Drop us an email at editor (at) DrinkSpirits.com

(ed note, Patrol Silver is actually distilled twice, the Platinum is distilled three times, both use stainless steel stills)

  • John

    Wonderful article. No “pub speak”, just practical, factual information. Well done.

  • NANA BROWN

    DEAR SIR/ MADAM
    SMART MOVE, THANKS A LOT FOR JACK DANIELS TENNESSEE HONEY. I TASTED IT THE FIRST TIME IN TORONTO AND OH MY, ITS THE FINEST I HAVE EVER TASTED. ITS SMOOTH AND IT DOES NOT BURN YOUR THROAT. THIS DRINK, PRACTICALLY MAKES LOVE TO YOU.
    EVERYTIME YOU TAKE A SIPS, YOUR TONGUE REACTS DIFFERENTLY TO THE TASTE AND TEXTURE.

    WHOEVEVER INVENTED THIS, THANK YOU SOO MUCH.

    SINCERELY
    NANA BROWN

  • Peter Bjarnason

    I live in Saudi and I buy the locally brewed alcohol. But recently it has been coming out tasting like shit and I want to run it through a quick sort of distillation of my own to clean it up but i live in a hotel here and must be super discreet. What is the simplest and cleanest way to achieve my goal. I am thinking I must by a heater and a pot and some copper tubing which is just fine but I need some help here guys….Thanks very much in advance….Peter

  • Godfrey

    Hi, great article!! I may have a histamine intolerance, but love to have 1-2 drinks/night… preferably tequila… do you have any info on low histamine spirits… or does the distilling and filtering take care of much of the potential problems? THANKS!! Looking forward to Avion!! 😉

  • Godfrey

    Careful… bourbon is high in the stuff that gives you hangovers! Yes, Honey DOES taste great!!