Malt Resistance

Narrating the Rise and Fall of Single Malt Scotch.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Laphroaig Liar?

Just found out that one of my favourite malts of the moment is artificially coloured, presumably with caramel. Now, before I divulge the malt in question, please allow me to address a couple points argued by some consumers eager it seems to be fooled and lied to by the corporate parents of Malt Distilleries (it never ceases to amaze me, but yes, these people exist.)

Typical comment #1: "You can't taste the caramel, so who cares?"

Answer: I am not absolutely (well, I wasn't) sure about whether or not the caramel can be tasted of not. Some tasters say it can be discerned, others say no. I would argue that its presence surely influences other elements in the drink --even if it is not directly noticeable.

But the larger point is that we drinkers are being mislead. A darker malt leads the innocent consumer to expect an older whisky, perhaps even a more rich, sherryed one. But we now know it could just mean it is artificially coloured.

Typical comment #2: "The industry needs to present a consistent product. Colour consistency is part of that, and the consumer expects it."

Answer: The consumer of blends may expect colour consistency, but single malt consumers are willing to give up consistency and other asthetical aspect of whisky in favour of better taste and authenticity. The producer know that (they've probably test merketed this to death), which is why 'unchilfiltered' Single Malts have made their appearence, for example. Though of course most distillers probably still colour their malts, since most countries don't require them to disclose this dirty little secret (this by the way is a direct result of free markets: it really mean the freedom for corporations to lie to us). So, in a nutshell, we malt drinkers know that Single Malts are the product of a region (a terroir perhaps) and are not expecting McDonald like consistency --please don't insult us with that phony excuse any longer.

What made this particular piece of corporate treachery all the more galling was that the --coloured-- product in question was billed as "straight from the wood." This is obviously a falsehood since they had to have added caramel after decanting the whisky. Not to mention the false impression of purity the sentence give the consumer.

Tasting the 'Lying' Laphroaig Cask Strength

All the more upseting is that I love the bottling in question, the Laphroaig Cask Strength 10 years old (OB). It is a Laphroaig concentrate, the parfum of Laphroaig so to speak.
On the nose it has an emphatic medicinal quality, and behind that perhaps a hiterto little noticed hint of sweetness. The whole olfactory experience is shrouded in a pleasent mustiness, the way London is sometimes covered in Fog or New Orleans in humidity.
The palate is undistiguishable from the mouth feel, because it so viscous. What I find so great about this Laphroig is its remarkable texture, even more than its taste. One fells young wood, stange for such a young makt --but perhaps older ones were added. Also the alcohol provides a little sunshine, a little lemony light that breaks through the mustiness. And it goes on for a while. It leaves a long and pleasent aftertaste, which most tasters call "finish." 92.

So what about the caramel, one might ask, and so here it is. After discovering of the alteration --my hearty thanks to the german governement, by the way-- I verbalized some unformulated notion that had come to my mind during previous 'innocent' experiences with the Laphroaig. Just like little indications, clues if you will, that you remember only after you discovered that someone has been unfaithfull to you... I remember wondering why this 10 year old CS bottling felt more sweet like the similarly dark Laproaig 15 year old, sweet like the lighter and dryer 10 year old regular strength... I supsect that the 15 also is coloured, more so even then the CS, which gives it this sweetness that is, come to think of it, oddly un-islay like. Could it be perhaps... the undisclosed addition of caramel? Well, one thing is for sure, we'll never know, unless you are willing to trust the people at Allied Distillers who lied to you about the content of their product in the first place.


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