Scotland’s national drink begins its journey as a clear spirit before taking on a diverse palette of colours.
The colour of whisky greatly varies from one bottle to the next.
Freshly distilled spirit is casked completely colourless and over many years of maturation, the colour from the wood seeps into the whisky.
The range of barrels used to cask up our national drink has a notable effect on the tint of the final product too.
Whisky maturing in sherry casks will take on a fiery red colour and whether the whisky is “first-fill” or “second fill” will also impact the strength of colour.
Bourbon casks bring out the golden straw colour you’ll find in Glenfiddich 14 years and other bourbon finish bottles and port casks result in a pinky-gold ombre.
The signature aroma of your favourite tipple might be the same from one barrel to the next, but there’s no guarantee the colour will match, so flavourless caramel syup stops your brain from telling you it’s off.
The Scottish Whisky Regulation (2009) ensures the only ingredients to be added to Scotch are “water and plain caramel colouring”.
It’s a controversial subject. Though spirit caramel is routinely added to whisky to standardise the colour across a batch, it doesn’t negatively impact the flavour.
Instead, it removes the possibility that customers could be turned off by their favourite dram appearing lighter or darker than usual.
That said, more distilleries are bottling single malts without caramel colouring.
With so many levels of complexity to unwrap with scent and taste, don’t let your eyes mislead you if your whisky looks a little off-colour.