CLASSIFYING COLOR Caramel colors manufactured for spirit applications are utilized around the world, and they are labeled differently depending on where they are manufactured and used. In the UK and Europe, caramel colors must be labeled as E150a, E150b, E150c, and E150d, and only E150a can be used in Scotch production. But in the U.S., caramel coloring falls into either Class 1, 2, 3, or 4, depending on how it’s produced. “All caramel colors use a carbohydrate source,” explains Terry Geerts, applications technologist for caramel coloring manufacturer Sethness Products Company. Caramel Colors are manufactured according to 21 CFR 73.85, in which these common food-grade carbohydrates are used: dextrose, sucrose/invert sugar, malt syrup, and molasses. Class 1 (E150a) are the most simply processed, Class 2 (E150b) uses sulfite as a carbohydrate reactant, Class 3 (E150c) uses ammonia as a reactant, and Class 4 (E150d) uses both ammonia and sulfite as a reactant for the carbohydrate. Each consecutive class typically offers more color than the previous one, and each class also provides different functionality. Class 1 and 2 caramel colors are more stable in high ABV applications, Class 3 is sometimes used in beer since it is more protein stable, and Class 4 is most often used in soft drinks. All four classes are considered GRAS, or Generally Recognized as Safe, by the FDA. In the U.S., if TTB allows caramel color to be used in a specific
spirit, distillers can use any of the classes. Class 1, which are also known as plain caramel colors, are the most frequently used in the distilling industry. Geerts says Class 1 has a somewhat yellow golden tone that distillers seem to prefer, but depending on the application distillers will sometimes use reddish-toned Class 2. He says he cannot recall selling a Class 3 to any distillers, but in a few rare cases — like darkly colored liqueurs and flavored products — distillers have used Class 4. Chapter 7 of TTB’s BAM features a table that details allowable color usage for individual spirit categories. Looking over the table, some spirits cannot include caramel color, some can include up to 2.5 percent, and others can include more than 2.5 percent by volume in the finished product. “It seems to me that in the distilling industry you don’t need a lot of color,” tells Brian Sethness. While they work with a wide variety of distillers, Sethness says their most common distilling markets are rum, brandy and blended whiskey. How much caramel distillers use will depend on many factors, including what the market standards are for the specific product they are making. Geerts at Sethness says he often sees distillers using a .02 percent solution or less. For distillers who want to try using caramel, Geerts recommends beginning at a very low rate of .01 to .05 percent by volume. They can always move up from there, provided they stay within TTB’s
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