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  1. #1
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    The importance of color

    In the relatively short period of time that I have been a bourbon enthusiast, I have learned something very interesting. I have learned that COLOR is a very, VERY reliable indicator of how much I am likely to enjoy a particular bourbon. It almost NEVER misses. If the color is a deep, dark amber, I am likely to enjoy it. And the nearer that dark amber is to a nearly ruby color, the more that ratchets us up a few notches of probability.

    I'm not 100% certain of the significance, but I'm thinking that proper aging (good temperature oscillations) might produce a more richly colored bourbon. And part of it is certain to be my preference for proofs above 90 and preferable 100 or better in most cases.

    I've tried some very popular and highly praised upper shelf (though maybe not tip top shelf) bourbons of late, if only to be able to say that I've tried them. And in many cases, while they may have been very nice bourbons and of excellent quality, the color test could have predicted my reaction. There are some pretty pricey bourbons that didn't impress me because they were nice, smooth, but bland to my tastebuds.

    Do any of the others of you place a high value upon color? I do.
    "Finish your bourbon. There are sober children in India." -- Your Mom

  2. #2
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    Re: The importance of color

    Alan I like a rich color in a Bourbon, to me it says age. Doesn't always mean I will like it but the appearance is pleasing.

  3. #3
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    Re: The importance of color

    I have to agree. I don't think I've tied into a rich, darkly colored bourbon yet that didn't please me on some level. But then there's the "it's all good, but some is great" situation with bourbon, isn't there?
    Gotta make it somehow on the dreams you still believe...

  4. #4
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    Re: The importance of color

    Quote Originally Posted by flintlock View Post
    I have to agree. I don't think I've tied into a rich, darkly colored bourbon yet that didn't please me on some level. But then there's the "it's all good, but some is great" situation with bourbon, isn't there?
    Yes, I agree. But I'm getting both cheap and fussy in my old age. I want great, and I want great value too. And I'm finding that the color test helps me cut to the chase when it comes to selecting GREAT bourbon and great value.

    Let me give a couple of radical examples. I had to buy them and try them just to be able to say that I had done so. But both Woodford Reserve and Elmer T. Lee, while excellent bourbons, failed my color test, and also failed to be bourbons which I would buy in the future. They fall into my "very nice but just another 90 proof bourbon that is unspectacular and I can live without it".
    Nice stuff, but I was NOT overwhelmed. ORVW 10 yr 107 proof, on the other hand, blew my mind. And it's no surprise. The color is there.

    And that brings me to topic #2. Yes, color indicates age. And I am wondering, after having taken some distillery tours, whether or not some bourbon might actually age more efficiently than other bourbons owing to the techniques applied. I mean to say here that some 6 year bourbon might be more aged than some other 6 year bourbons owing to HOW the aging is done. Heaven Hill rotates barrels. Buffalo Trace ages different bourbons at different warehouse levels, but they do not rotate. They DO, however, heat their warehouses in winter.

    Consider the remarkable (for both quality and price) Very Old Barton 100 proof. Consider also the deep, rich hue of this 6 year old. What is Barton doing right to provide me a magnum of delicious bourbon for less than twenty three bucks?
    "Finish your bourbon. There are sober children in India." -- Your Mom

  5. #5
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    Re: The importance of color

    While I do enjoy a nicely colored bourbon or single malt, I don't really think it's an entirely reliable barometer, for me at least. I do get what you're saying.

    I recently had a 30YO single malt (wish I could remember what it was), aged in a used bourbon barrel, non chill filtered and uncolored (single malts are often color modified with food coloring or caramel, etc.). The whisky was as dark and woody tasting as a whisky could be, very rich and oaky; and a very pale gold color.

    Take a look at my old standby, ERSB. It's a single barrel 10YO whiskey yet I've not noticed any discernible difference in color between the many, many bottles I've emptied. It's a single barrel for god's sake, you'd expect a little variation at least. And while the color has been very consistent the flavors of late have not been (the whiskey varies now a lot more than it used to). Some bottles are woody and musty, some are brighter and sweeter. All are about the same color. But I agree, if I saw a shelf full of the stuff and one bottle was darker, I'd instinctively bring that one home. Eye appeal is a major factor in our choices about many more things than whiskey but I don't personally rely on it when it comes to whiskey.

    Cheers!

  6. #6
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    Re: The importance of color

    Color is my first clue but isn't always accurate. Usually darker means more barrel time and/or less water and that's usually a good thing. But not all barrels are kind to the whiskey it holds and more time in a "not great" barrel just makes darker not great whiskey.

  7. #7
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    Re: The importance of color

    Quote Originally Posted by bvscfanatic View Post
    Yes, I agree. But I'm getting both cheap and fussy in my old age. I want great, and I want great value too. And I'm finding that the color test helps me cut to the chase when it comes to selecting GREAT bourbon and great value.

    Let me give a couple of radical examples. I had to buy them and try them just to be able to say that I had done so. But both Woodford Reserve and Elmer T. Lee, while excellent bourbons, failed my color test, and also failed to be bourbons which I would buy in the future. They fall into my "very nice but just another 90 proof bourbon that is unspectacular and I can live without it".
    Nice stuff, but I was NOT overwhelmed. ORVW 10 yr 107 proof, on the other hand, blew my mind. And it's no surprise. The color is there.

    And that brings me to topic #2. Yes, color indicates age. And I am wondering, after having taken some distillery tours, whether or not some bourbon might actually age more efficiently than other bourbons owing to the techniques applied. I mean to say here that some 6 year bourbon might be more aged than some other 6 year bourbons owing to HOW the aging is done. Heaven Hill rotates barrels. Buffalo Trace ages different bourbons at different warehouse levels, but they do not rotate. They DO, however, heat their warehouses in winter.

    Consider the remarkable (for both quality and price) Very Old Barton 100 proof. Consider also the deep, rich hue of this 6 year old. What is Barton doing right to provide me a magnum of delicious bourbon for less than twenty three bucks?
    There's also the question of what char level is being used.

    That said, I must say that color is not a reliable factor for me. As someone in the wine trade, I can say that color is a not a good indicator for quality in wine. Too often people equate darker wines with "better wines," mainly with red, and it's just not true. It usually means simply more new oak.

    With Bourbon and Rye, I would say the same could be true. If you like a well-aged bourbon from heavily charred barrels, then color will work for you. If not...

    Recently I was drinking some 25yr Rye, which was black as night, and I loved it. I was also drinking some rather pale, by comparison, 1985 Old Fitz BIB, and loved that as well.

    Of course, who knows. Taste is so subjective.

  8. #8
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    Re: The importance of color

    I agree with the coloring being somewhat of an indicator for bourbon, but it has absolutely no bearing on the quality or taste of single malt scotch. Islay whiskies are almost always put in green or brown bottles. They are usually pale in color. This is done to hide the color of the whisky, so the consumer doesn't judge the content by the color.

  9. #9
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    Re: The importance of color

    Other than aesthetics, color doesn't indicate much. Try testing your thesis by doing a blindfolded taste test and see if it holds up. I'm gonna bet not.
    John B

    "Drinking when we are not thirsty and making love at all seasons… that is all there is to distinguish us from other animals."

  10. #10

    Re: The importance of color

    For what it's worth, I pulled some bottles, and I would rank them from darkest to lightest, in the bottle, as follows:
    GTS2010
    Pappy 23
    WLW2010
    PHC 27
    Pappy 15
    Weller 12
    JRPS 17
    Pappy 20
    Lot B
    BT
    MM
    KC
    FRM09

    The light isn't that great, and I just held them out at arm's length and squinted at them looking through the thinnest part of the bottle (usually near the bottom), which is the way they'd be presented on the store shelf. I didn't try to adjust for bottle composition, thickness, clarity, shape, remaining liquid volume (although they did all start out with 750ml) or clarity, or ABV, or do any real thinking or testing, although those factors made an obvious difference (eg, a squat wide bottle gives a darker cast, and dilution with water would give a lighter cast). Also, some of them were really close, and depending on which eye I squinted with, changed the outcome, so these results should be taken with a grain of salt. Other people could easily have different results.

    As for scotch, among other things, I believe it's not uncommon to add caramel coloring, so I agree that it would be less reliable. On the other hand, I believe bourbon cannot have any added coloring, but it doesn't seem that difficult to adjust the color in the bottle by changing the bottle or the ABV.

 

 

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