Filtering Scotch

Using a Brita Filter to Improve the Flavor of Scotch


Taking the Edge Off of Taking the Edge Off

Jerry Farm

The Backstory

In the middle of 2004, I got it into my head to try some scotch. I've always liked whisky--back in college I was into Manhattans for a while. But "scotch" sounds so much more sophisticated than "whisky."

In true geek fashion, I googled for some reviews and found Johnnie Walker Black Label (JWBL) to be highly recommended. I ran off to the store and bought a bottle. It was about $40. Ouch! The cashier said, "That must be some good scotch." If I had only known then... Johnnie Walker Black Label

But it was a sight to behold. The smart black and gold label and the gorgeous amber color--this was going to be great. When I got home I cracked open the cap and passed the bottle under my nose. Divine! I poured a shot, swirled it around and inhaled again. Heaven! I took a sip and swirled it around the front of my mouth. Ambrosia!

I swallowed it.

"AAAAAGH! AAAAACK!" Apparently the back of the tongue contains taste buds for "burnt rubber." Why humans evolved taste buds for burnt rubber is a bit of a mystery to me, but clearly we have them. Perhaps at long last this is the evidence of intelligent design that so many have sought. With the ability to taste burnt rubber, people are discouraged from licking NASCAR raceways, even though NASCAR is relatively new in terms of human history.

After trying JWBL with ice, with water, and mixed with pop (a.k.a. soda), I gave up. I still had most of a bottle (see photo), but to me this stuff was simply undrinkable. Obviously other people like it. Unless it is a great conspiracy or a mass delusion. Maybe nobody actually likes it, but say they do because of peer pressure. Or because the bottle looks so sophisticated.

Perhaps it is like that high school science project where you taste a test strip. Some people can taste it and some can't--it's genetic. Or maybe it wasn't stored properly. Who knows. But I later found that Jim Beam has the same aftertaste. A strange thing is that I thought perhaps I'd had JWBL once before, from one of those little airline bottles after a flight was delayed, and thought it was good at the time. Go figure.

So let this be a lesson to you kids: be careful about what you read on the web. Now quit reading about booze and get back to your homework.

The Inspiration

Then I read something else on the web.

Practical Applications of the Philospher's stone. For drunks. at This I found via a link posted at BBspot, so you can blame them for all this. (American motto: Don't take responsibility for your actions. Sue others to do it for you.)

Anyway, there they describe an experiment to filter cheap crappy vodka to make it taste like expensive tasty vodka. Eventually the idea percolated through my brain to try this on my JWBL scotch. What did I have to lose, I mean aside from some brain cells and liver function?

Besides, some companies do the same thing and jack up the price, right? Granted, their equipment is probably a little more sophisticated.

The Plan

I stopped by Target and plunked down $7 for a Brita filter. I'm such a cheap bastard skilled engineer, that I didn't bother getting the pitcher that you are normally supposed to use this filter in. It looked like I could do what I wanted without the pitcher. If this were something that one wanted to do regularly, getting the pitcher would be worth it for the convenience.

Here are some views of the filter:

Brita filter and box  Brita filter  Brita filter bottom

The thing looks like it was specifically designed to be unusable without the pitcher--it is so convex. There's almost nothing to catch liquid and funnel it into the thing. But not to worry, there are ways around that. [evil laugh]

The instructions tell you to soak the filter in water for 15 minutes. So I did.

Filter soaking in glass of water

They also say to run two pitchers of water through it to rinse out the carbon dust. Oh no! I had no pitcher! So I just ran water through it for a while. That'll work, right?

Running water into the filter  Water draining from filter

In the course of rinsing the filter, some of the bits of filter material would come out through the holes around the top. These are seen as black and tan specks in the photo below. (Did someone say Black and Tan? mmmmmm.) Clearly the filter wasn't designed for the higher dynamic environment of manual rinsing compared to sitting in a pitcher. Hey, the thing is designed to be only as good as it needs to be. I grok that. I just made sure to rinse it all off before using the filter, though I'm guessing the stuff is harmless. (But it might not be--so remember what I said about the web.)

Filter medium particles

After soaking and rinsing the filter, I shook out a lot of the water before using it, so as not to simply end up with watered-down scotch. I'd already tried that.

To get by without a pitcher [evil laugh], I simply cut a hole in the top of the filter to make it easy to pour in Johnnie.

Filter with hole in top

Finally, here is what you've all been waiting for: the money shot.

Pouring scotch into filter  Filtered scotch in glass

You have to pour Johnnie in slowly and a little at a time to allow it to drain, otherwise fluid just comes out the holes around the top and runs down the side. (Um, we're still talking about scotch, right?)

The First Attempt

The glass at the right in the picture below is the result of the first filtering attempt. Kind of blackish, eh? Apparently I didn't get two pitchers worth of water through the filter before using it. Or, pouring directly onto the filter bed through the hole in the top disturbed the filter material too much and knocked more dust loose. But though it didn't look too pretty, it actually tasted a lot better!

Comparing filtered and unfiltered scotch

The Second Attempt

I did another rinsing of the filter, this time running cold water into the new hole in the top. You have to be careful here because if you dump in water too fast you'll just flush out a bunch of filter material. Slow and easy does it. Running water directly into the filter seems to get the dust out pretty well since it knocks around the filter particles. It brings back memories of my youth, when I had an aquarium and had to do much the same thing to rinse the dust out of the activated charcoal used in the filter. Though there the charcoal chunks were bigger (pea-sized) and you could just dump them in a bucket of water and swirl 'em around with your hand.

After shaking the water out of the filter a second time, more virgin JWBL was sent through the filter. This time the color only had the barest trace of darkening as seen in the middle glass in the photo above. The virgin scotch is shown on the left for reference.

The Test Drive

I poured a small amount of this second batch over ice, swirled it around, and took a sip. Wow! It tasted completely different. The taste was probably less complex, but the aftertaste that made virgin JWBL undrinkable for me was virtually gone. In fact, the filtered JWBL had a nice carmel aroma and flavor. I was also more aware of the alcohol now too, somewhat suggestive of vodka. After all, what is vodka but ethanol and water anyway?

When I got to the end of that little tasting I was starting to notice a just a hint of the aftertaste. I sent another batch through the filter, but this time sent it through four times. That batch seemed to have no color change at all, so the charcoal dust finally must have been cleaned out. The repeated filtering may have improved the aftertaste some, but the difference wasn't pronounced enough that I'm sure. If I were really ambitious I would have done a blind tasting to compare, but this is just a lame web page, not some double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. So I simply ran the rest of the bottle through the filter four times and called it a day.

I'm just glad I can finally drink my $40 bottle of scotch.

Well, $47.


Disclaimer: I can not be held responsible for anything you do. Trademarks are owned by their owners (duh), none of whom are affiliated with this nonsense.

2005.03.30 created
2005.07.17 revised