Interest in fine whiskies is accelerating at mind-boggling speed. If you happen to take part in any whiskey auctions, I don’t need to tell you that snapping up a bottle at a reasonable price is becoming harder with each auction (‘cough’ ‘cough’ MVR2020). This growth in popularity can be observed both domestically and abroad. Our indigenous whiskey industry produces plenty to keep any collector and whiskey geek busy. It’s hard to keep up! The consistent growth of Irish Whiskey is promising and positive, but we are still miles away from others. Many folks on this side of the World may not be aware but Japan is the 4th biggest Whisky producing country in the World. In 2018, Japan produced 94.5 million liters of ‘liquid gold’. Ireland on the other hand only managed to produce ‘measly’ 8.9 million liters that year. (Tastings, 2019)
In less than a decade Japanese Whisky has surged from relative obscurity to the most sought-after liquor on the planet. (Risen, 2020) Prestigious whisky awards and mystical stories about the nation’s reputation for meticulous craftsmanship certainly helped to capture the attention of collectors and drinkers alike. However, this worldwide success introduced a troubling obstacle. Japanese producers simply cannot keep up with the demand anymore. The biggest Japanese Whisky brands had to discontinue some of their most successful aged expressions due to lack of aged stock. Yamazaki 12 or Hibiki 17 are only the tips of the iceberg of fabulous whiskies that were discontinued due to shortages.
Despite shortages, there is an even bigger issue looming over the Japanese Whisky Industry. And it is a big one. Japanese whisky is not legally required to be distilled or aged in Japan. Yes really! Unlike Ireland or Scotland, Japan does not have strict rules when it comes to what constitutes Japanese Whisky being called well… Japanese. Calling Japanese Whisky ‘regulations’ loose is a monumental understatement! Current laws allow producers to import whisky from elsewhere to be bottled and sold as fully Japanese Whisky.
During the first Japanese Whisky boom which happened between the 1960s to 1980s, it was common practice that producers used to cut their low-end whiskies with whisky sourced from either Scotland or Canada. This process made whisky more accessible to regular customers. With shortages in stocks being more prevalent than before, this process has been a blessing to ensure that the producers meet domestic demand for cheaper brands. IWSR reported that Japan imported 70% more Canadian Whiskey than it did four years prior (Japhe, 2019), even though retail sales of Canadian Whiskey were stagnant. Every major brand would have at least one low-cost label that is cut with other whiskies. Great graphic done by Whiskey Richard shows how messy it can get trying to find the truth. ( https://www.nomunication.jp/2018/07/06/infographic-japanese-whisky-real-or-fake/ ). Rule of thumb: The cheaper the Japanese Whisky is, the less likely it was fully made in Japan. Nonetheless, it does not mean that these whiskies are bad! In fact, these outsourced whiskies are essentially a backbone of the industry as these blends are the most popular among Japanese drinkers. The problem is not the liquid but the rules around it.
Luckily, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. In 2019 Japanese Whisky Research Centre has organised a very first Tokyo Whisky and Spirits Competition. They also decided that for 2020, a new set of stricter rules will be introduced for entries submitted to the Japanese Whisky category (Richard, 2019). For obvious reasons, the competition did not go ahead in 2020, but the seed seems to be well planted for next year. Rules introduced for this specific competition are meant to be a foundation of the new Japanese Whisky legislation that is being proposed by Mamoru Tsuchiya who is the founder of the Japanese Whisky Research Centre. A full list of proposed changes can be found here: https://www.nomunication.jp/2019/09/09/twsc-details-japanese-whisky-requirements/.
Proposed rules are constructed in such a way that previous practices of using outsourced whisky are still allowed but under new nomenclature. Along with a number of rules regarding distillation and ageing, Japanese Whisky can only be called that when it’s fully distilled and aged in Japan. Japan Made Whisky will constitute a whiskey that has been outsourced from elsewhere but is still required to follow certain ageing and distillation requirements that are the same for Japanese Whisky.
Whisky consumers around the world are becoming ever more discerning when it comes to traceability of the product that they are buying. It can be observed just by looking at the monumental success of Waterford Whisky which took transparency and traceability to the next level. It will be hard for anyone to match what Waterford Distillery is doing, but it does not mean that companies cannot use them as an example and implement certain practices into their approach. I believe that the changes proposed by Mr. Tsuchiya will provide consumers of Japanese Whisky with much-needed transparency without stopping previous practices that have been used for decades. Using outsourced whisky helped to shape the industry into what it is today, and I feel that this process still has a righteous place under new rules. So how is the future shaping up for Japanese Whisky category? It is hard to say but in my humble opinion, the rule change is necessary to ensure further growth. I think any whisk(e)y consumer would agree that messy rules that are in place today will inhibit further growth of this exciting category.
If this little passage made you crave Japanese Whisky, I have a little surprise. I am in the process of putting together a Japanese Whisky tasting where we are going to taste some very special Whisky from the Land of the Rising Sun. Make sure to follow BottledView Instagram page, so you don’t miss out!
So I would consider myself an Irish Whiskey enthusiast (always learning), and I’ve seen this topic come up a number of times. I didn’t particularly pay too much attention to the “controversy ” surrounding it until a recent phone call with a fellow whiskey enthusiast. E150a was mentioned, to which I honestly admitted I didn’t know much about the additive only that I heard some whiskeys are colored with it. I didn’t know why, or what exactly it was, or how it was implemented or made, etc etc. The argument was made that a certain whiskey didn’t have any coloring in it, it was completely natural and that its color came straight from the cask, but how could one compare that whiskey to say one that did in fact have coloring in it?
This conversation got me thinking, what don’t I know about caramel food coloring that I could research and perhaps share a bit of info on, turns out its been widely researched in Scotch whiskey, but Irish? Let’s jump in.
WHAT IS IT?
In the most simplistic of breakdowns, its food coloring. Caramel color to be exact. The correct definition of E150 is:
a “light to dark brown liquid or solid which is obtained from controlled heating of sugars; obtained from controlled heating of sugars with the help of chemical reactants” (European Technical Caramel Association, Euteca Decision Tree)
HOW IS IT MADE?
E150a (plain caramel) is “prepared by the controlled heat treatment of carbohydrates (commercially available food-grade nutritive sweeteners which are the monomers glucose and fructose and/or polymers thereof, e.g., glucose syrups, sucrose, and/or invert syrups, and dextrose)”
They heat up Carbohydrates, A process called caramelization. The entire breakdown of the process can be found here.
There are four “classes” (American I, II, III, IV) or INS – E numbers (European A, B, C, D,) set forth by the United Nations Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food additives (JECFA). Each of these classes contains a number of caramels with their own unique properties that render it useful for use in certain food and/or beverages.
When it comes to Irish Whiskey, our main area of focus is E150A, plain caramel/spirit caramel coloring.
As can be seen from the graph, E150A is our main area of importance when it comes to its uses in Whiskey. This is mainly due to the fact that this particular class or number, has the least amount of impact on flavor. B through D tend to have other sulfites and ammoniums in them that may adversely affect the flavor profile of Whiskey.
There can be arguably a number of reasons that distilleries might decide to use small amounts of E150a,
“Normalization” or consistency. We Whiskey drinkers expect our Whiskeys to look a certain way when we pour them into our glasses. Thing is that different batches from distilleries may yield different coloration results. As the flavor profile (nose and taste) may remain the same, slight irregularities in color may occur and distillers will use E150a to “Normalize” batches. Typically this will be down to maturation lengths and casks used. As different casks with different amount of refills will yield varied color results.
For younger aged Whiskeys or those with no age statement, E150a coloring may be used to make the Whiskey look older. As those who drink Whiskey have a tendency ( not true for all ) to regard darker Whiskeys as older age statement whiskeys making them seem more appealing and flavorsome. You’ve surely heard the expression “ we eat food with our eyes first” this statement can be transformed to include drinking whiskey.
DOES IT IMPACT TASTE?
The jury is out on this one. I have not found one scientific bit of evidence carried out that will either confirm or deny that E150a impacts the flavor of Whiskey. Now bear in mind we aren’t talking about huge quantities being used in Whiskey coloring and it is at the discretion of each distillery how much they may or may not use in vattings. However, I did come across this video and had a laugh.
QUICKFIRE ROUND, WHAT YOU MAY OR MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT E150a:
According to the Irish Whiskey Technical file point 126.96.36.199. E150a may be used in the production of Irish Whiskey, before bottling. And only for coloring, not for flavoring or sweetening.
According to the Food Safety Authority on Labeling of Irish Whiskey, the addition of E150a is considered voluntary information and does not have to be stated on the label (Ireland).
According to the Scotch Whisky act of 2009, E150a is allowed in Scotch Whisky
E150a is NOT allowed in Bourbon or anything with the word “straight” in it that pertains to Whisky in the U.S.A. However blended Bourbons are allowed to use it as are all other types of non-bourbon Whiskys (that don’t have the word “straight” on the label).
It is Vegan, Halal, Kosher & Gluten-free.
E150B-D are not allowed in Whiskey production in Ireland as they have sulfites and ammonium and can impact on the flavor profile of Whiskey.
It is used in Coca Cola, as well as pharmaceuticals, meats, baked goods, beer, brandy, & rum.
So, in light of all that information thrown together, what are your thoughts on E150a being used in the production of Irish Whiskey? Yay or nay ye say? If it doesn’t affect the flavor profile then does it matter?
Would you like to see the label regulation changed to have it shown, Do you think the industry should be more transparent in their use of E150a?
Check out my brand new YouTube channel: The Whiskey Chaser, Updated every Wednesday with new episodes. Be sure to SUBSCRIBE & FOLLOW.
You’ve undoubtedly heard by now the fuss surrounding this single cask, and if you haven’t, stay reading. Unfortunately, the attention was for all the wrong reasons, it should have never been about the euros €€€…. What they aren’t telling you about The Temple Bar single cask from Redbreast, its F$%^ing good! Very very good!
I am lucky enough to have been able to sample the majority of the single cask range from Redbreast and yea, wow. You are experiencing the very best that Middleton Distillery has to offer, and you could call their single cask range their “showcase” of sorts, or even their “examples of excellence”.
So then why has this particular Single cask had so much attention?
MONEY MONEY MONEY
Sadly its price. And at an initial release price of €850 it was out of reach of most whiskey drinkers/enthusiasts. What’s worse is that price changed rather quickly after release and jumped up to an eye-watering €1,250.00, Sigh.
If you’re a fan of Redbreast Single cask releases then you’d know that this far surpasses any other releases to date in terms of price (even when compared to the La Maison Du Whisky 25yr old on the secondary market)! However there’s been a fluctuation of pricing in recent months, from €850 up to €1,250, then down to €750, and then down to €600, annnd now currently at a “sale” price of €550 on The Temple Bars website ( at time of writing).
Still on the high side of the range but nonetheless within reach and of much better value than was previously priced.
I hear you ask , Brian what do I get then if I fork over the €550?
Let me tell you.
You get a 26-year-old, non-chill filtered, Redbreast Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey. Distilled in 1991 and filled in first-fill Bourbon Barrels, left to mature for 17 (ish) years, and then re-casked into a first-fill Sherry cask and left to mature for a further 8 (ish) years, giving a grand total of 26-years maturation. Once bottled the cask yielded a total of 618 bottles at 53.9%ABV.
So is it good?
It’s worth trying for yourself, I’m aware that not everyone has the same palate when it comes to whiskey, but for me, I really enjoyed everything this Single Cask had to offer. Complex, well balanced and so full of flavor it’s insane. My tasting notes:
Visual: Beautiful brown sherry/Treacle
Nose: Initial bang of exotic dried fruits, with a slight hint of dark chocolate and an even slighter hint of coffee, pot still spice, and Antique oak.
Palate: Mouthwatering sweetness and white peppery spice mixed with oily tannins, beautifully balanced nuttiness eventually giving way to a bitter dark chocolate dryness. Strange how I found it went from mouthwatering to dry.
Finish: a lovely balanced bittersweetness combined with that unmistakable redbreast spice. The spice starts out in the middle of the tongue and continues towards the back of the throat. Very well balanced and complex, plenty of oak influence, very more-ish.
RIGHT THERE FOLKS PLEASE…..
To sum up, it really is an incredible expression. Certainly a showcase. And I don’t mean to be “big upping” this whiskey by any means but, when something is good its good and I tend to call it as it is. Just a shame there was so much F&%$ing around with pricing at the start, it got the right attention for all the wrong reasons! Now that it’s at a far more affordable price, I’d highly recommend trying it, even if you bottle share it with friends. After all, sharing is caring…..Sláinte.
In the interest of transparency, I purchased my own Bottle and sample of the above, all opinions are my own and were in no way influenced from any outside parties.
I recently found myself immersed in a Blog post written by Peter Mulryan, Yes that Peter Mulryan who wrote the Whiskeys of Ireland, Yes that Peter Mulryan that’s behind Blackwater Distillery and Velvet Cap Whiskey. It was the third blog post relating to the newly released Velvet Cap Whiskey and the journey to date with all the trials and tribulations that they faced delivering their sourced Whiskey. It was very interesting, but the third post caught my attention at one point as Peter was going into how Whiskey Brands create a “story” for the consumers. It was sort of a eureka moment for me, the post was quite light-hearted and humorous and I would recommend a read of it. But it got me thinking, as Whiskey drinkers/enthusiasts/collectors we have an appreciation for knowing where the juice we are drinking comes from. Ok so obviously if its a brands own make and its matured by the brand etc etc yada yada this doesn’t really apply to what I’m talking about, but when it comes to the likes of merchants, bottlers, Bonders & Blenders we as Whiskey Drinkers want to know what exactly or where exactly does that Whiskey originally spawn from. Now obviously there are certain Distilleries that we know are well known and even regarded for their cask programs/sales, There are also a lot of merchants and bonders that sign NDA’s which make it all very hush-hush. But there is always that one chap that knows exactly where the juice comes from.
( Disclaimer: I am NOT a marketing expert, and any of the following information was researched for the facts with a hope that it would create an open conversation between Whiskey enthusiasts )
Now I’m not talking about Whiskey bonders/merchants/bottlers from the 19th and early 20th centuries that were renowned for writing the originating distillery where the Whiskey was sourced on their marketing posters/bottles, but in this forever expanding Whiskey Market it’s rather refreshing to hear that nowadays a Whiskey brand is more transparent in their intentions and have no issues in disclosing ( to an extent ) where they got their juice or what their blend comprises of. I feel more connected to a brand that does this, I’m inclined to trust and respect them more for it to be honest. And I know for a fact I’m not the only one. Which is probably why now I see more transparency in the current market. Is it a new storyline? I mean let’s face it most Irish love a good ole story, in fact not even Irish but people the world wide. Everyone loves a good come back story, an underdog story, a story with honesty, integrity, pride. So is this a coincidence then that we see more and more transparency amongst newer brands?
No, It’s called marketing. And transparency is becoming more and more regarded amongst major corporations and smaller companies/brands as an integral part of their marketing. Ultimately, brand transparency is all about convincing your customer to trust you. Only after you’ve developed trust can you begin to cultivate the holy grail of great marketing: brand loyalty. Brand transparency and trust are two essential, and connected components of building a successful brand. Without trust, you’ll never convince your audience to choose your product over a better-known competitor. Without brand transparency, your customers won’t take the risk that comes with giving an unfamiliar company the benefit of the doubt.
Approximately 94% of customers are more inclined to remain loyal to a brand with good transparency. As Whiskey drinkers we feel more comfortable giving our money to a brand that owns up when they make the odd mistake, right? After all, today’s Whiskey drinkers are more informed, empowered and engaged more than ever, research also shows that more than half of all consumers seek out additional company information when choosing a brand, and 73% will happily spend more on a product that shows complete transparency. More again, 70% of a companies customers will actively look for insights into the company before they choose to buy from you (the information provided by Fabrik Brands & Medium.com 2019 ).
So to sum up, Transparency is not really a brands new storyline, in fact, its a Marketing strategy to engage consumers with your product and develop more loyalty, and it has been around many many years. Now I for one do not have a problem with this in any way. When it comes to Whiskey if the juice is good that’s half the battle. I do love a good story though, and I do find myself more engaged with a company that is more openly honest about its Whiskey. So do we buy the story first and then the product second? Is Transparency important to you? Id love to hear your thoughts and opinions……. until next time, Sláinte.