Color may identify both the type of cask used and the time spent in said cask, as the hue is derived from wood contact.
Basically, the longer the maturation, the more intense the color. Reservoir gets its rich, deep hue from time in the cask and a heavy level of char in the barrel. (In a separate post, we’ll have an interesting chat about the wondrous world of “finishing techniques.”)
A note to encourage the reading of labels: You may discover a color additive used by some distilleries to enhance the outcome.
It is legal to add up to 2.5% caramel coloring (E150a) according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, but not if you plan to call your spirit Bourbon. And the rule applies to wheat, corn, and rye if the distiller plans to label their whiskey as “straight.”
The simplest way to identify your dram’s color is by holding your glass against a white background—such as a sheet of white paper. Now check the color chart. Super easy.
This is a measurement of thickness and can be a sign of a whiskey’s age.
Swirl the spirit around in your glass, then stop and assess the legs—the bands falling down the sides of the glass. If they’re as slow as a snail with a limp, you’ve got yourself an older whiskey, possibly eligible for a pension.
And if it has gams like 6-feet tall Uma Thurman, your dram is likely higher in alcohol.
Some distilleries will chill-filter the whiskey in order to eliminate any cloudiness that may occur naturally, but there is a common complaint that by discarding the oily compounds, it also negatively affects the whiskey’s flavor.
Whiskies with the non-chill-filtered style may go somewhat cloudy when water is added, but will return to its clear state shortly. Be patient. Many distillers believe you provide a richer, fuller flavor by keeping the whiskey non-chill-filtered.
(Again, like our distillers here at Reservoir.)
So there you have it. Lesson one and none the worse for wear. You’ve got a handy dandy color guide and a couple of interesting facts for your back pocket. Go forth and gleefully practice!