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Enemy # 1: Caramel

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Enemy # 1: Caramel

Postby r0b » Fri Jan 14, 2005 6:56 pm

Lately I've been trying out lots of blends (and quite a few malts) and have found the addition of caramel has, in most cases, disastrous effects. There is hardly any real taste. The overall impression is that it's something artificial, manufactured and... just not Scotch. During the last year or so I have developed something of an allergy to caramel. My tastebuds are threatening to commit hara-kiri.

According to US law, no artificial substances can be added to bourbon. It must be ALL natural ingredients. There are laws regulating what can be called Scotch - why not implement "No artificial additives [i.e E150] allowed" as with bourbon?
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Postby Lawrence » Fri Jan 14, 2005 8:19 pm

You have my vote, while you're at it you might as well ban chill filtering also.
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Postby r0b » Fri Jan 14, 2005 8:23 pm

Indeed, but I do not think that chill filtering has quite the same negative effect as the addition of caramel. If we're talking about specific malts it may, but having an apocalyptic view I don't think we'll ever have the chance...
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Postby hpulley » Fri Jan 14, 2005 8:32 pm

Unfortunately, caramel spirit for colouring is specifically ALLOWED by scotch whisky laws. I'd love to see that struck down but don't think it will happen any time soon. Blend makers especially want to make a consistent product in both taste profile and colour. Why single malts would continue to do this I don't know...

Harry
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Postby Tom » Fri Jan 14, 2005 8:40 pm

good point, then lets just ban color consistency.i'll vote for that!
Although, most people voted that they do care about color in the "does color matter" poll. So where does that leave us?
I also agree on the chill filtering, it takes out flavors so we dont need it.
Caramel is becoming a plague, look at the laphroaig CS and Talisker, we so dont want this to spread further.
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Postby r0b » Fri Jan 14, 2005 8:44 pm

[quote="C_I"]If you just look to an average young malt or grain (not coloured), you can see that you need some amount of caramel to have it look like Red Label (or a lot in the case of a Macallan). And 3 to 5 year old whisky (grain or malt), they are not that great.

I have tasted whisky that young and they are really good. (Laphroaig quarter cask, Signatory Vintage Islay etc) You just have to remember that they are YOUNG and have not achieved the same maturity due to lack of contact with the wood as a ten or 12 year old.

I see your point, and agree to an extent, but why should whisky drinkers be "fooled" into drinking older matured whisky when they are *not* tasting the real thing?


"So if you add both of them, you automatically get... well... err.. simple whisky. "

That is my question - is it REALLY whisky?

"A ban on E150 does not give a solution... Distilleries will just make some extra barrels with whisky like Loch Dhu, just for colour adjustment... Then there is no artificial colour in the whisky. And we don't want that to happen...."

Not quite sure what you mean... Don't you think it would at least be a good way to minimise damage (skipping E150)?
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Postby r0b » Fri Jan 14, 2005 9:01 pm

If non-colouring works with bourbon, why not with Scotch?
( I know Scotchs matres slower than bourbon - but still)
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Postby Admiral » Sat Jan 15, 2005 12:53 am

Forget colour for a moment.....caramel's greatest crime is that it robs a whisky of it's delicate notes. The top notes and sparkle are lost, the flavour is dulled, and - whilst the whisky still may taste pleasant - the complexity is greatly diminished.

Cheers,
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Postby Aidan » Sat Jan 15, 2005 11:30 am

Obviously the industry believes that the addition of caramel makes the product more saleable, so if it's removed, presumably they believe sales will go down, and, as a consequence, the price of whisky will go up, No?

Also, just because it has an E number, it doesn't mean it's a chemical as such. Caramel is a natural ingredient.

It's easier for bourbon because it gets its colour from the charred virgin oak.

Anyway, I've never tasted two versions of the same whisky with and without caramel, so I don't know if it affects the taste. I'd imagine 99.9% of people are the same.

Maybe they should just have non-caramel versions. Probably wouldn't be hard to make a batch or two each time without the caramel.
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Postby WestVanDave » Sat Jan 15, 2005 7:59 pm

My understanding (albeit not conclusive) is that the presence of caramel is highly correlated to the process of chill filtering - in that once a whisky has gone through the process of chill filtering (in an effort to reduce the risk of it appearing cloudy/hazy etc.) it is often then coloured with the addition of caramel for uniformity and consistency. It is a form of homogenization. (I don't know of any whisky that is non-chill filtered that then has caramel added, but I stand to be corrected on this point.)

Basically - both chill filtering and the addition of caramel are ways of cheating :evil: by dressing up the appearance of the whisky to fool the uninformed public - and furthermore - it is cheating by robbing the whisky of some of its critical taste components. :twisted: :twisted: :twisted:

The manufacturers are doing this because they can get away with it. The risk of clouding only exists at lower ABV (40% or so) - so this is driven by the desire for higher yield and greater profits. Bottle at 46% or better and the risk goes away!!!

The more we can do to educate the public and reduce the reward for this illicit practice - the more we will all benefit from a truer, more flavourful whisky experience.

Just my 2 cents worth...

Cheers, Dave.
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Postby Admiral » Sun Jan 16, 2005 12:03 am

Amen.

My gut feel is that, as long as the distilleries are allowed to add caramel, they will happily continue to do so. As Dave has said, it allows them to produce consistent bottlings of uniform colour, and the average Joe Blow who's been buying JW Black for 20 years expects to see that same dark colour each time.

It's criminal in a sense, because one of the finest whiskies I ever tasted was as pale as the whitest white wine. (It was an SMWS 17yo Ardbeg).

And yet, if Joe Blow saw that sitting on the shelves, he'd assume that it was a sick, unhealthy, unwholesome, young bottle.

Cheers,
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Postby Tom » Sun Jan 16, 2005 2:00 pm

If Joe Blow would ever be in my house calling a fine dram sick, unhealthy and young crap i'd be happy to inform him he's an ignorant twat and then he would have to drink my entire bottle of Bowmore Darkest to compare and see for himself how a nice dark dram can taste like completely crap.
Also Glenfarclas 105 is not chill filltered, bottled at cask strength and has caramel.
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Postby Lawrence » Mon Jan 17, 2005 3:21 am

Well said Dave.
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Re: Enemy # 1: Caramel

Postby islayjunkie » Mon Jan 17, 2005 6:51 am

r0b wrote:During the last year or so I have developed something of an allergy to caramel. My tastebuds are threatening to commit hara-kiri.


You might want to copy this thread to your hard drive. It's a list of caramel and non caramelized malts

http://www.whiskymag.com/forum/viewtopi ... c&start=15
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Postby Aidan » Mon Jan 17, 2005 9:08 am

Right, so how many of the coloured malts are considered great? I bet lots, although there will always be the argument that they'd be even better if they weren't coloured.

Again, I've never did a comparative test, and I doubt many others have either. Most distillers say it makes no difference. Most professional blenders I have talked to say it makes no difference. In fact, all of them so far - not that this represents a huge number. These would have their own agenda, though, maybe.
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Postby islayjunkie » Mon Jan 17, 2005 9:39 am

Aidan wrote:Right, so how many of the coloured malts are considered great? I bet lots, although there will always be the argument that they'd be even better if they weren't coloured.


For the few who have allergy to caramel the above post is appropriate.

I could care less if a malt is coloured or not so long as I can't detect "burnt sweet sugar". Bowmore is one malt I do detect this in strongly... especially the CS. Burnt sugar could be a desirable trait depending on one's taste :wink:

I personally prefer non caramelized whisky simply to taste the true nature of the whisky however this would exclude to many good single malts which I'm fond of.
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Postby Aidan » Mon Jan 17, 2005 9:54 am

That's true, sure enough. I have no opinion of the actual tasted given to whisky by caramel colouring, if it does exist, which it may.

Maybe they should provide a pair of tinted glasses with every bottle of whisky - maybe rose coloured.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Mon Jan 17, 2005 11:33 pm

Aidan wrote:Most distillers say it makes no difference. Most professional blenders I have talked to say it makes no difference. In fact, all of them so far - not that this represents a huge number. These would have their own agenda, though, maybe.


Quite right about the agenda thing--I got quite a laugh reading one of WM's excellent round table discussions, wherein numerous whisky business persons vehemently defended chillfiltering, saying non-chillfiltered whiskies were "different, not better". Anybody want to buy the Forth Rail Bridge? They defend both of these practices because they do them, and they do them for what most of us here would consider a bad reason: cosmetics. But a marketer of whisky has a different perspective than you and I do, and deals much more with casual whisky drinkers than with supremely discerning aficionados such as we :wink: . The question is whether they are turning a blind eye (a deaf ear? an untasting tongue?) to the detrimental effects these practices may have, purely for the sake of catering to the larger number of less discriminating consumers.

We all here recognize chill haze and inconsistent color to be the hallmarks of natural and unadulterated product. We must make it our mission to get that idea across to the mass of malt drinkers. Only when consumers expect and demand these characterisitics will distillers be motivated to provide them as a matter of standard practice, and possibly, hopefully, even codify these standards in their definition of single malt Scotch whisky.
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Postby Deactivated Member » Tue Jan 18, 2005 2:00 am

C_I wrote:(Even chillfiltered and coloured, Lagavulin is good)


It is indeed, but that unnatural color always reminds me of Ronald Reagan's prematurely orange hair.
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Postby Lawrence » Tue Jan 18, 2005 5:05 am

I think we the consumers will force the distillers hands over time, just look at the number of cask strength malts that have come on tha market in the last while and many of them are not filtered. This has happened because we have expressed a preference for thistype of whisky. Eventually they will react to their customers wishes. Once one starts, the the others will have to follow.
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Postby Admiral » Tue Jan 18, 2005 7:36 am

I know we've discussed this before, Lawrence, but I just don't think we're a big enough force.

Single malts make up 5%, maybe 10% at most, of the whisky market. The overwhelming majority still goes off to the blenders and is bottled as blended whisky. Uniformity of colour is a feature of the blends, so there is actually incentive for the bottlers to use caramel in these instances.

I can't see 5 or 10% of the market swaying the other 95%. At least not in the immediate future.

Cheers,
Admiral
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Postby bond » Tue Jan 18, 2005 8:29 am

Admiral wrote:
I can't see 5 or 10% of the market swaying the other 95%. At least not in the immediate future.

Cheers,
Admiral


And thats the way it should be keeping in mind long-term commercial interests. We need to give the malt whisky industry more time to mature. There is a process of consumer education and "connoisseurs" should not press fast forward.
Last edited by bond on Thu Jan 20, 2005 1:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Admiral » Tue Jan 18, 2005 12:37 pm

Yes, I agree with Bond.

In fact, even amongst the single malt drinkers of this world, we fall into two camps.

There are those who simply buy single malt and drink it and happily know nothing about how whisky is made or what happens behind the scenes when it comes to a bottling run. They don't care either.....as long as the next bottle of Glenlivet 12 tastes the same as the last bottle they bought!

And then there are those of us who take a more dedicated interest in the world of whisky.

Let's say single malts make up somewhere between 5% and 10% of the whisky market. And then let's say that for every 100 people who buy and drink single malt, only 30 would fall into the second group of knowledgeable and interested 'connoisseurs'.

The percentage of the market that might bear some influence against the bottlers using caramel just fell to 30% of 5%. i.e. 1.5% !!!!

Sadly, I'm not expecting the situation to change in a hurry.

Admiral
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Postby Deactivated Member » Tue Jan 18, 2005 11:31 pm

But Admiral, I don't care about the blends. It seems to me perfectly reasonable for them to chillfilter and color, given what they are intended for. Your 5-10% of the whisky market is 100% of the single malt market, and that's where these practices don't belong. If as many as 30% of malt drinkers are discerning enough to care about these issues, then we ought to be home free! Look at what CAMRA has done for real ale in Britain--it's irrelevant that the bulk of the British beer market is drinking Stella or Budweiser. We need an organized consumer advocacy group like that to push these matters.

And actually, I'm fairly optimistic that things are going our way, anyway--look how much the market has changed in just ten years, much like the beer boom of the '80's. Already some distillers, like Bruichladdich, are making the lack of chillfiltering and coloring a selling point, and getting recognition for it. Surely others will follow suit, and before you know it, the words "unchillfiltered and uncolored" on the label will be worth a few dollars on the sticker. Yes, they'll get more for doing less--that's business! But I won't complain, if it means I get more whisky of better quality.
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Postby bond » Thu Jan 20, 2005 8:35 am

I am somehow a great capitalist and believe profits should be the sole objective of any industry. All else stays in place that way(connoiseurs' preferences included)

30 years from now, I would rather have an option of drinking from 200 chill filtered and "coloured" malts than having to choose from 50 open distilleries .

There is probably a market for non chill-filtered , non caramel-added whiskies and that probably explains the existence of Te Bheag, and also a Ardbeg selling almost 100% of its whiskies without chill filtration.

There is certainly a while to go before there is scope for a movement to formally push the industry in that direction. As and when it makes commercial sense, they don't need us to point them there.

Till then, we should ideally be supportive of Bruichladdich and Ardbeg while they are wetting their feet. The depths of the water shall be tested in good time.
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Postby Admiral » Thu Jan 20, 2005 1:22 pm

Bond,

Excellent comments, and I wholeheartedly agree. :)

I should hope that no one is being "unsupportive" towards Ardbeg or Bruichladdich, and I sincerely hope that their efforts prove amazingly successful and encourage other distilleries to follow suit.

Cheers,
Admiral
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Postby Deactivated Member » Thu Jan 20, 2005 5:29 pm

bond wrote:I am somehow a great capitalist and believe profits should be the sole objective of any industry. All else stays in place that way(connoiseurs' preferences included)

30 years from now, I would rather have an option of drinking from 200 chill filtered and "coloured" malts than having to choose from 50 open distilleries .

...

There is certainly a while to go before there is scope for a movement to formally push the industry in that direction. As and when it makes commercial sense, they don't need us to point them there.


Bond, call me a modified capitalist. Making a profit is of course the point of all business, but I would certainly hope that anyone involved in a craft industry like distilling would take pride in making the best product possible. The "profit is all" attitude is a major reason why so many distilleries have closed.

Your last sentence is self-contradictory. "Making commercial sense" means exactly that we the consumers have made our preference known, indeed pointing them there.

30 years from now I would like 100 or more distillery managers saying "Can you believe we used to debase our product with chillfiltering and caramel coloring as a matter of course?"
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Postby bamber » Tue Feb 22, 2005 5:05 pm

Found this very interesting and surprising

http://www.maltmadness.com/mm13.html#13-04
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