A couple of interesting facts about caramel color, which has me pondering its use in whisky. It can be manufactured either with or without the addition of chemicals (you can see a detailed description here: https://patents.google.com/patent/US2582261A/en). The European Technical Caramel Association concludes that caramel colors with chemical modification are "neither artificial nor natural", which sounds very much like a grey area or rather erring on the side of 'it's not really natural' (https://euteca.org/wp-content/uploads/2020-EUTECA-final-position-on-natural-20.11.2009.pdf). We are always reassured that e150a specifically (a Class I or "plain" caramel) is used in whisky, and has no influence other than the optical effect. Interesting to note that, while there is a distinction between plain e150a and other aromatic caramel colorings or "burnt sugar", it is open to interpretation (rigorous though the process may be), as can be seen in this chart - https://euteca.org/wp-content/uploads/2020-Revised-decision-tree-adopted-at-2017-AGM.pdf. To my knowledge, there is no legal requirement to state anywhere on a bottle of whisky that it contains "natural" or "artificial" added color, and to specify that it contains e150a specifically. I think the closest we get is in Germany, where "with color" must be disclosed on the label (German folks can please help me with the exact wording and translation of what's on the label), but even that does not by law have to specify which type of e150 is used. But let's get back to and investigate the conventional wisdom that e150a is the "best" one to use in whisky as it has a slight to no effect on the taste. Because it would seem that Class I caramel has a relatively strong aroma and taste compared to some of the other classes, and that the Class I or "plain" e150a is actually more suited to whisky due to its stability in an alcohol- and tannin-rich medium - https://www.caramelfacts.org/Types.html. The question is, seeing as it does not need to be disclosed anywhere, how are producers sure which type of caramel coloring they are adding prior to bottling? And, even if they confirm it's e150a from the suppliers, is it really the "best" for the consumer, or the best in terms of being the most effective at modifying the color of a whisky and remaining stable? I think we can do without it altogether, a sentiment that I'm sure is shared by many whisky lovers. I hear people's points saying it's used sparingly to adjust color for consistency's sake, (which I think is debatable, looking at some of the dark fake-tan looking 10 year old single malts out there), and that it has no effect on the taste or quality of the whisky that's even discernable by a professional tasting panel. But at the very least, it's not making for an honest presentation of the whisky, and we may not know what exactly we're consuming, because it's too loosely regulated, unlike something like the ABV, which has to be specified on the bottle. These are all just the opinions of an amateur and a newbie, though. What are your thoughts on the use of caramel in whisky? Is it something you try to avoid when purchasing a bottle, or is it only a small factor which does not influence your decision, as long as the whisky tastes good?
Posted by Willem Kilian at 2023-06-19 07:39:23 UTC