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Comparison: Whisk(e)y vs. Rum

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What's your position on caramel coloring for products labeled "rum"?
I am aware that rum distillers cheat, use sugar or sweet baking caramel.
 0%  [ 0 ]
Tiny amounts of bitter dark caramel for coloring is fine.
 0%  [ 0 ]
The addition of caramel coloring should be labeled.
 50%  [ 1 ]
Products labeled "rum" should be free of all additives.
 50%  [ 1 ]
Total Votes : 2

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Capn Jimbo
Rum Evangelisti and Compleat Idiot

Joined: 11 Dec 2006
Posts: 3499
Location: Paradise: Fort Lauderdale of course...

PostPosted: Sun Sep 05, 2010 5:04 am    Post subject: Comparison: Whisk(e)y vs. Rum Reply with quote

A comparison worth drinking - whisky - to...

I love rum!

But not the many versions that have been "tweaked" with unlabeled additives like sugar, sherry, glycerol, and all manner of unadmitted artificial and other spices and flavorings. These should honestly be labeled "flavored rum" but aren't.

It is not unusual for some rum distillers to even substitute light and medium brown baking caramels (which are nothing more than rich, concentrated sugars) for dark brown and bitter legal "caramel" coloring. Why? Simple: to add unnatural sweetness, smoothness and body to younger, cheaper rums.

That's why rum retains its place in history as the rogue spirit of rogues.

It is instructive to consider whisky and bourbon. Bourbon is the purest of all, requiring first fill new oak barrels - used just once - and absolutely forbids any additives whatever. Not even legal dark caramel coloring. Whisky is a close second, using new/used oak barrels and allowing only tiny amounts of bitter spirit caramel (to adjust color).

The Scotch Whisky Act of 1988 states:

"'Scotch Whisky' means whisky which has been produced at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley to which no substance other than water and spirit caramel has been added."

Even this small amount of bitter dark caramel coloring is too much for some distillers.

According to citing Sprinkbank whisky distillers: "It's always been our aim to produce a whisky which is not changed in any way either by the extraction of flavouring oils during chill filtration or by the addition of caramel colouring in order to standardise the whisky,".

Taking the reins, Germany and Denmark have been requiring that all the Scotch sold in their countries must state whether or not caramel coloring was used. Naturally, this has raised the level of debate among whisky drinkers there, with more and more preferring pure and uncolored whisky!

Again citing JustDrinks:

"Independent bottler Murray McDavid, the new owner of Bruichladdich, is another believer in the 'all-natural' route. 'Although it comes from a natural source, caramel is an artificial colour'" says Gordon Wright at Bruichladdich.

Other distillers stand behind the use of dark caramel color, on the basis of the small amounts used and their belief that any taste of caramel comes from the wood, not the bitter dark coloring. I happen to agree with this view of "spirit (dark) caramel".

But based on a test bottling, Gordon Wright of Bruichladdich disagreed:

"We recently test-bottled Bruichladdich, some with caramel and some without. The difference was amazing, with the non-coloured being cleaner and fresher by miles." McHardy agrees: "I think the addition of large amounts of caramel colouring can alter the flavour of the whisky. In the case of some of the cheaper blends caramel colouring may even improve the flavour!"

He oughta know.

Wright also believes in honesty and consumer choice:

"When people are fully informed about what is in a product they're able to make a decision on how important it is to them. I think everyone who knows about caramel addition would rather see whisky being bottled naturally."

His belief: when people are informed about the addition of caramel, they will tend to want the natural, unadulterated product. He believes that not labeling any additives, specifically caramel is deceiving the customer. "It's cheating... The majority of drinkers are led to believe that a whisky's colour comes from the casks used rather than a bucket or two of colouring added just before bottling."

Not suprisingly the caramel-adders dispute this and claim that "...consumers want and expect a consistent product". Wright responded by noting that wine drinkers accept normal color variations from bottle to bottle.

Bottom line:

Personally and although I can see both sides, I tend to favor the position of honest and clear labeling of spirits and let the consumer decide. In terms of rum I see two or three steps, in order:

1. Enforce the regulations "caramel". Bitter dark spirit caramel is much less likely to be used excessively, and will have far less profile altering effect than the light and medium rich sweet caramel illegaly added more for flavoring than color.

2. Specify that caramel coloring must be clearly stated as an "additive" on the label, and let the consumer decide.

3. Outlaw caramel, period. Then any color will be an indicator of barrel aging, not artificial additives.

What's your take?

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