EXPLORING CARAMEL COLORING WRITTEN BY CHRIS LOZIER
or over 135 years, caramel color has been used by distillers to color a variety of spirits. It plays a large role in the distilling industry, but depending on who you ask, you will hear a lot of opinions about whether it’s good or bad. Some say it’s essential for producing a consistently-colored product that consumers can always rely on, and others say it misrepresents the true spirit. Most of the time distillers add it to their products to ensure they always look the same. For many brands — especially if they are widely distributed — consistency in color is just as important as consistency in aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel, because color affects how people perceive spirits. Consumers typically expect darker, more deeply colored spirits to be richer and heavier in flavor, while they often associate lightly colored spirits with sweeter, brighter notes, and a lighter mouthfeel. Spirits industry veteran, judge, and consultant Steve Beal thinks distillers typically add caramel color for the same WWW.ARTISANSPIRITMAG.COM
reasons they chill filter — to achieve a consistent and desirable shelf presentation. “It’s really just about having a product that looks the same all the time, and is reasonably presentable with what consumers have come to expect commercially,” says Beal. Caramel colors are used in a variety of products, from liqueurs to Scotch, but it’s not allowed in every product. Bourbon, for example, cannot contain caramel coloring according to the TTB’s Beverage Alcohol Manual (BAM). Some products allow caramel color additions if it is noted on the label, but others, like rum, do not require a label statement. Of course, it’s not necessary to use caramel in spirits. Even though it is prohibited in bourbon, Beal says there’s very little reason a distiller would even want to use it for bourbon since new charred oak barrels contribute a lot of color on their own. But for Scotch, where barrels are often used several times, achieving a consistent color, or even much color at all, is tough to do with wood alone.
The magazine for craft distillers and their fans.