requirements for the specific product they are coloring. Geerts also recommends using liquid, rather than powdered, caramel coloring formulations. And while they are not specifically designed for this purpose, he says they do offer some UV protection, as well.
MORE THAN JUST COLOR? So does caramel color affect the aroma, flavor, and viscosity of the final spirit? That’s a debated issue, and there’s no widely accepted definitive answer. On its own, caramel coloring does have some flavor characteristics. Geerts says Class 1 colors are usually somewhat bitter, while Class 4 colors are generally mild. Whether or not that flavor is detectable in the finished spirit — especially at very low usage rates — is tough to answer objectively. Even if it was measurable through mechanical analysis, that does not necessarily mean it will affect a person’s sensory experience. There are plenty of people on both sides of that issue. Beal says that in his 20 years in the whiskey business, he’s not sure he’s ever been able to tell whether or not a spirit contained caramel coloring through sensory analysis. “I pretty much have an idea that it’s involved in a lot of cases, but there’s no confirmation from me, and I have a pretty sophisticated nose and palate, I would say.” Others say it does affect the final spirit in nose, palate and viscosity, especially in products other than whiskey. While whiskey
caramel additions are often quite low, some other products use higher rates. Alternatively, several distillers who don’t use caramel coloring actually use that as a selling point. For them, color variation from batch to batch is a positive thing because it keeps their customers interested in each subsequent release. They use the absence of caramel, often in conjunction with the absence of chill filtering, to market their products as a purer option than their competitors’ colored products. Some consumers are looking for that experience, but whether or not an uncolored whiskey is more pure depends on how consumers define purity in whiskey. Some argue that caramel coloring is added to deceive consumers into thinking a product is older than it is. In some cases this may be true, but that’s not necessarily accurate for a 12-year-old Scotch which contains caramel coloring since the color it obtained from resting in used cooperage would be very pale. Further, several caramel proponents say the market demand for brown spirits simply necessitates added coloring. If consumers want spirits without added caramel coloring, they are going to seek them on that basis. But if the addition of caramel coloring isn’t a quality factor a consumer considers when buying spirits, they probably won’t care whether or not the product contains caramel. Like many decisions in the distilling industry, adding or avoiding caramel coloring comes down to what the consumer wants to purchase and what the distiller wants to make.
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