August 6, 2014

Smell with your eyes

Last night we posted this picture and asked you what the differences were between these two drinks. Differences on the nose, differences in the finish, differences in process. Take a look:

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Some thoughts were that the right was scotch while the left was bourbon. Others that the right was made in virgin barrels vs used barrels on the left. From the left we got “peaty, and sweet” while the right it was suggested was “smokier, fruity, and oaky.”

The one on the right is Laphroaig 18 year. A single malt Scotch from Islay. It is peaty, smokey, and woody with a touch of honey sweetness. It is made in limited quantities and is non-chill-filtered with no colour added. It’s fantastic.

On the left is some filtered water with some caramel colour. For the most part its odourless, tasteless and quite boring.

Caramel Colour E150

Colouring whisky is a common practice amongst some producers. Using it means that time after time you, the consumer, ends up with a consistent looking product across hundreds of bottles and batches. But it also means that consumers can be easily deceived as to what this drink may taste like.

When browsing products on a shelf, we must smell with our eyes! The spirit industry knows that we are suckers for caramel colouring (it’s in a lot of food!) and that’s why brands like Johnnie Walker confidently use clear bottles, while Laphroaig 18 comes in an almost opaque bottle. They both know that consumers believe that a darker drink must have more flavour. In this example, is that true?

The colour of your whisky can say very little about your drink, or a lot if it specifically says “no colour added.” For example, Aberlour A’bunadh is a non-chill-filtered, no colour added scotch that is dark in colour, but bottled in a clear bottle. They know the marketing formula as well.

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A’bunadh and other scotches can also be cloudy due to sediments and oils in the drink, and vary in colour from batch to batch. Aberlour takes pride in this and actually numbers their batches for your comparison.

What is chill filtering?

Chill filtering is the process of reducing the temperature of a whisky to near 0 degrees celsius in order to cause the fatty acids, proteins, and esters created during distillation, to precipitate in a way that they can be filtered out. This results in a clearer drink.

So whats wrong with that?

Everything! Or maybe nothing. It depends on who you are. Some argue that removing these fatty acids, proteins, and esters removes flavour from the drink and compromises the purity and integrity of the product! Those who do chill filter their products say that it has no effect on the final product other than cosmetic improvements. Since no one releases a filtered and unfiltered version of the drink however, it’s not possible to do an A-B test yourself. Yet!

Final Word

Don’t trust your eyes in a game of flavour! Don’t confuse a clear bottle for confidence, and a dark bottle as trying to hide something. It’s in fact the clear bottle that often has more to hide.

Try this experiment on your friends! Ask them which glass they’d prefer and then sit back and laugh as your friend enjoys his coloured water!<

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