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Color in whisky is very difficult to determine. In my studies for wine sommelier at WSET, we looked at red and white wines and determine the grape, viscosity and legs and tears. This because in wine you can determine a lot by looking at the color of the wine, before you even have smelled or taste the wine.
This said, with whisky this is more difficult. This because the whisky industry may add spirit caramel (E150a). I will explain more about that further in my blog.
So first we need to know if color is added to the whisky otherwise is pointless to determine anything.
If the bottle of whisky states no added color or coloring added. you can start looking at you whisky with a whisky coloring chart or a quay cup.
You can then slowly swirl your whisky glass and determine the viscosity by looking at the tears/legs running down your glass.
new make spirit
In most modern distilleries the new-make spirit emerges from the stills is crystal clear. it gets most of its color from being stored in oak casks /barrels.
The flavor of the new-make spirit is strongly present and the rest of its color and flavors will be added by the use of oak Cask / Barrels.
Want to read more about the use of casks and barrels
For decades the industry is using caramel coloring for the consistency of their whisky. The use of E150a also known as spirit caramel. this spirit caramel has no taste it only effects the color of the whisky.
A lot of Scottish and other distilleries around the world use E150a for give a consistency to their whisky/whiskey.
It is barred from use in US Bourbon and Rye whiskey’s.
Some distilleries will add the coloring on their bottles or note that they didn’t color their whisky.
If the distillery didn’t add color to their whisky you can determine more from the age and used cask.
HOW IS IT MADE?
E150a (plain caramel) is “prepared by the controlled heat treatment of carbohydrates (commercially available food-grade nutritive sweeteners which are the monomers glucose and fructose and/or polymers thereof, e.g., glucose syrups, sucrose, and/or invert syrups, and dextrose)”
They heat up Carbohydrates, A process called caramelization.
Tears and legs
So does it matter ?
My personal opinion is that the whisky that I drink must be as pure as it can be.
- No adding color,
- Non chill filtered
- Cask strength.
But this being said, I understand why the whisky brands add these E150a to their whiskies. The consumer looks for the dark color and thinks its better.
This will means that you are likely to buy the darker colored whisky then the lighter colored whisky. You think it taste better, is matured longer and is better in quality. The problem is that if its not noted on the bottle you don’t know if E150a is added too your whisky.
Their have been experiments and reports that professionals and whisky expert can’t taste the difference between a natural color whisky and a whisky with E150a added too them. In blind tasting these experts and professionals havent found the whisky with E150a added. So this will let us know its just for our sight and not for our taste.
I like looking at the natural color of the whisky the same way I like to analyze my wines. Looking at your natural colored whisky can reveal a couple of things:
- Age of the whisky
- Cask maturation
- Alcohol strength
I think a lighter colored whisky doesn’t say anything on how its will taste or how long its been aged or matured. If the whisky is matured in a virgin oak cask, it will always be less colored than a whisky being matured in a 1st fill sherry cask. Its just what flavors you prefer in your whisky.