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How Can a Whisky Be Distilled 2.5 Times?

Sometimes when you’re reading about a whiskey—particularly a Scotch whisky—you’ll come across something like “distilled two-and-a-half times.” What on Earth does that mean?

When producers claim to distill their product some fractional number of times, they’re not referring to running the still halfway, then pumping the brakes just as the going’s getting good. Instead, they’re usually talking about one of two things: the re-distillation of some portion of the feints or heads at some point during their production process; or the splitting of the spirit into different batches, distilling each a different number of times, and then combining them into a single batch at the end.

National Scotch Day
Scotch whisky aging at Springbank (image via Springbank)

An example of a distillery employing that first strategy is Springbank. Springbank has a direct fire wash still and two spirits stills. They take the feints (tails) of the first spirit still and combine them with a portion of the low wines obtained during the initial stripping run. That mixture is then distilled again on the second spirit still; for the feints, it’s their third trip through the still. That means a portion of the finished distillate has been distilled three times, while another portion has been distilled twice—voila, 2.5 times distillation.

Mortlach takes a different route to arrive at a fractional number of distillations. One of the oldest distilleries in Scotland, Mortlach has six different stills, all different shapes and sizes. Some of Mortlach’s spirit is distilled conventionally: one pass through the wash still, and then one through the spirit still.

But a small portion of the low wines are reserved and directed through a small, strange little still Mortlach calls the “Wee Witchie,” where it’s distilled three more times, with only the hearts added to the final whisky. The resulting whisky is said to be distilled 2.81 times, to be precise – just don’t ask us to explain the math.

Margarett Waterbury

Margarett Waterbury is the author of Scotch: A Complete Introduction to Scotland's Whiskies and a full-time freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Whisky Advocate, Food and Wine, Spirited Magazine, Artisan Spirit, Edible Seattle, Sip Northwest, Civil Eats, Travel Oregon, Artisan Spirit, and many other publications. She is the former managing editor of Edible Portland, as well as a cofounder and former managing editor of The Whiskey Wash. In 2017, Margarett won the Alan Lodge Young Drinks Writer of the Year award. She received a fellowship for the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers in 2017 and 2019.

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