Making Vodka: Does Number of Times Distilled Matter?

number of times distilled

Why Some Vodkas Celebrate “Number of Times Distilled”

As a Master Distiller, I can say without reservation that the “number of times distilled” claim on many vodka labels is a gimmick. Overall, it is not an indicator of quality and alone on a label it simply gives the consumer no context as to why the vodka was distilled over and over. Did they mess-up the first few tries? Was the original product so full of impurities that they could not purify it with a single distillation?

Walking through a liquor store you may run into a salesperson or promotional staff crowing about how many times the vodka they are representing is distilled. Here is an idea, next time someone says that, ask them, “what actually does one distillation mean?” Ask them to explain precisely what that looks like and what does it do to the liquid. I will guarantee you that the response will be “it makes the vodka purer.” That’s just not true at all. Multiple “distillations” almost always makes the vodka more processed; and over-processing vodka makes it lower quality, not higher quality. Multiple distillations strips the vodka of the water character (which makes-up 60% of vodka) and results in an astringent outcome. In 98% of the vodkas that are over-distilled, they all add sweeteners and citric acid to mask the harshness. If the label does not say “Certified Organic” or “Contains no sweeteners,” it likely has sweeteners and citric acid, and likely other additives.

The Vodka-Selling Gimmick of “Number of Times Distilled”

To illustrate the point, think of sharpening a knife. If you sharpen a knife correctly and professionally, it should be ideal. If you repeatedly re-sharpen the knife, you weaken the blade and make it brittle. Reject quality claims related to “number of times distilled” without disclosing the entire process. It’s like saying that rebrewing coffee through the same coffee grounds makes better coffee…that is definitely wrong, it is almost an identical situation with vodka.

“Claims of “number of times distilled” are simply bogus and have little relevance to vodka quality. It has more to do with how dirty a fermented product is to start than it has to do with final quality or purity.”

“You get one chance to make quality vodka and that is when you choose the base product. You can’t fix vodka by distilling it over-and-over. At that point, you end-up with the Vodka equivalent of Frankenstein’s Monster.”

Tim Kelly, master distiller & mutiple gold medal winner

While distillation is an important factor in producing high-quality vodka, simply doing more distillations does not necessarily result in a better end product. It’s perfectly acceptable to show distillation count on a label, but to base the product quality on number of times distilled will tell you immediately that the producer is not serious about their craft. Also, the definition of what constitutes one “distillation” has been exploited by many vodka producers.

Tim Kelly, Master Distiller
Tim Kelly, Felene Master Distiller

At Felene, distillation is a process, not a contest. Some distilleries will count the “number of times distilled as how many plates (and site glasses) they have on their column still. That’s not factual and should be ignored. Unfortunately, there is no regulation on this claim. The process of distillation iterations usually ends at “3-4 times distilled.” Any more than that, it’s purely a gimmick.

Cleaner Fermentation Means Few Distillations are Required

A single distillation involves heating a liquid until it vaporizes, then cooling the vapor back into a liquid. During this process, the impurities in the liquid are removed or separated from the pure alcohol.

In vodka production, the first distillation is typically done in a large still, also known as a pot still. This initial distillation produces a “low wine,” which is a liquid that contains a mixture of alcohol and other compounds. Distillers refer to this as a “stripping run” as it’s the stage that strips the bulk of impurities.

The low wine is then distilled again, often in a column still, to produce a more pure and neutral spirit. This second distillation is sometimes referred to as a “rectification.”

If a producer uses potato, corn or wheat to make their vodka, they will be producing high levels of acetone (nail polish remover), methyl alcohol, formaldehyde fusel oils and esters. Organic sugarcane juice is a natural, simple sucrose and does not produce these harmful and foul-tasting compounds. It’s basic science and it’s a superior product.

The number of times a vodka is distilled can vary depending on the producer and the desired outcome. Some vodkas may be distilled three or four times, while others may be distilled more or less.

Distillation is the process of purifying a liquid by heating it until it vaporizes and then condensing the vapor back into a liquid. In vodka production, distillation is used to remove impurities and create a neutral spirit that is then blended with water to produce the final product.

The number of times a vodka is distilled can vary depending on the producer and their desired outcome. Some vodkas are distilled multiple times, while others may only be distilled once or twice. However, the quality of the final product is not determined solely by the number of distillations.

Other factors, such as the quality of the ingredients used, the skill of the distiller, and the filtration methods employed, can all have a significant impact on the final product. Additionally, some vodkas are deliberately made with impurities or flavors to give them a distinct character.

Ultimately, the best way to determine the quality of a vodka is through tasting it and evaluating its flavor, mouthfeel, and overall quality.

Timothy Kelly

Tim is the Founder & Master Distiller at Felene. He developed his passion for the spirits and hospitality business while growing-up and working in his family's restaurant and liquor store business. Tim’s passion for the epicurean lifestyle has found it’s latest manifestation in the Felene Distillery. Tim is a 5-time Gold Medal Award winning Distiller. He has won a Platinum medal at the Prestigious Los Angeles Spirits Awards and his signature vodka was named Best-in-Category by the American Distilling Institute. Mr. Kelly is also a prolific author and writer and his blog is filled with ideas, discoveries, observations and recommendations to help his readers enjoy life’s simple epicurean pleasures.

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