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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff
Sunday, 27 November 2011 17:33

What's the Color of Whisky?

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Let's start with the single biggest issue I face as Brit living in the USA at this time in the twenty first century, is it... color or colour?  Well I am going to let Microsoft Word be the judge (other word processing packages for PCs are available... I think, although I have never seen one since Word Perfect in the late 1990s) and as I get red squiggly line when I type colour, and color has the one less letter for a 14% reduction in effort, for consistency in this blog entry I am going with color.  Same for flavor.

I think it is fair to say that majority of the whisky community, who have expressed a preference, say they would prefer their single malt whisky came non-colored, that the producer did not add the coloring agents which are sometimes used to give a consistent color to their brand due to the slight inconsistencies that maturation in casks can create.  Some single malts in fact exploit this preference and take pride in claiming to be non colored.

So why then do so many formal tasting notes I read, often written by the same community members who express concerns about coloring agents, bother to state a color for the whisky?  Surely if color is not important and in fact a variation in color is fine with the whisky community do we insist on formally identifying the color.  This seems inconsistent and sends a very mixed message to the whisky producer that we associate certain colors with certain whiskies and therefore they need the consistency that the use of coloring agents gives them. 

I don't care about the color and I rarely comment on it during my tasting notes unless something jumps out as being at odds with expectations or even the taste.  But in general they are just tasting notes.  I have never "liked" a whisky because of its color, nor have I found a color so displeasing that I couldn't drink the whisky (but I then have never seen Loch Dhu).  So why do I care if others do comment on color?  Well I just think if we perhaps removed the reference to color from tasting notes and reviews altogether then producers would get a clear message that the whisky buying community doesn't care what color their whisky is – as long as it tastes good.

We know that you can sometimes tell or at least guess some taste profiles based on whisky's color, but we have also all been surprised that rich fruity but pale, light whisky or that dark mahogany whisky that was light and soft.  The description of a "blind tasting" to me suggests strongly to get the best possible taste description the color of the whisky should be ignored anyway.  I accept the term blind tasting is also used to refer to being blind to the producer and origin of the whisky as well, but it seems the root of the phrase is clear, that seeing something before tasting it can be misleading and set expectations or even suggest to the taster certain flavors before it is even sampled.

So I am suggesting that if the consumer demonstrates clearly they don't care what color the whisky is, by ignoring it, the producer then has no need to color it (no one would choose to spend the extra time and money coloring whisky if they didn't have to).  However by reviewing whisky and stating its color in numerous books and guides in many ways we are setting the expectation of color for that brand and expression that forces the producer to then color their whisky and the cycle continues.

Perhaps some blends targeted specifically at the whisky and lemonade brigade (not that there's anything wrong with that) would still require consistent color to prevent consumers concerns, but the single malts are targeting the more discerning whisky buyer and so we should perhaps just all agree to stop talking and writing about a whisky's color?

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