Top three spirits questions answered

Sean Ludford regularly writes about spirits and cocktails for and publishes his own fabulously funny website at

What does double, triple, or quadruple distillation mean?
This term is actually straightforward and descriptive as it is telling the consumer how many times the spirit was distilled. Each distillation not only further purifies the spirit but it also strips away aroma and subtle flavor agents that are naturally present. In the case of vodka where neutrality is desired, numerous distillations are most often positive. Most spirits are distilled at least two times with true Armagnac, which is distilled just once, being the primary exception.

Why is whisky dark while vodka is clear?
The answer is simply wood. Everyone has seen a room filled with barrels (or at least a picture of such a place). Color, as well as a host of flavors and aromatic contributors, is extracted from the barrels. Flavors described as being reminiscent of roasted nuts, vanilla, caramel, treacle, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, cola, toffee, and chocolate — to name a few — are all attributed to wood barrels. (Of course this does not account for the endless collection of flavors artificial and otherwise, that are added to clear spirits.) Read more about vodka.

What does proof mean?
Proof is an all but meaningless expression of alcohol strength. It is no longer legally required on labels of spirits but is most always found there. The origins of this measurement date to the 18th century. Alcohol was determined to be “of proof” when a solution of the alcohol with water could be poured on a pinch of gunpowder and the wet powder could still ignite. Furthermore, proof is calculated differently in the US and the UK, which of course creates much confusion. The US method of calculating proof is to simply double the spirit’s alcohol by volume (ABV) while the UK system calculates on a ratio of 7:4. A spirit with an ABV of 40% would have a US proof of 80, whereas in the UK, it would have a calculated proof of 70.


One Comment

  1. Interesting. I would sometimes wonder if triple distillation means that the quality is a lot better. Thanks for the info!


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