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Issue 22 - Caramel keg

Whisky Magazine Issue 22
May 2002


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Caramel keg

Ian Wisniewski investigates one of whisky's most controversial and maligned ingredients … caramel

What a lot of fuss. You only have to mention caramel and a certain group gets over-anxious and condemnatory. Admittedly it's the more militant single malt brigade rather than the majority of Scotch whisky drinkers, but it's usually the most vociferous group whose views get prime publicity.

Adding caramel is usual for blends, and hardly unusual among malts, in order to achieve colour consistency between batches, as even the most rigorous cask selection results in colour variations.

This particularly applies to blends, which may comprise between 15 and 50 separate grain and malt whiskies, with the availability of some component whiskies prone to fluctuation (not to mention termination).

But if blending or vatting can achieve a consistent flavour profile, why worry about any minor inconsistencies in the colour? The problem is that while many consumers know their favourite brands, a typical assumption is that colour variation
indicates a different flavour profile.

Consequently, caramel plays a strategic role in reinforcing a sense of familiarity with a brand, optimising consumer confidence.

But it's also a case of consumers having a certain brand knowledge, while lacking some key whisky knowledge – which is that slight colour variations needn't automatically affect flavour. An obvious solution is for distillers not to keep perpetuating this situtation (by continually serving up standardised tints), but to explain colour variation, and the fact that caramel is simply ...

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