Caramel Coloring in Scotch Whisky

Caramel Coloring has been a great debate in the whisky world especially after the increase in the popularity of Single Malts the past decades. A great discussion is made for the impact of E150a on the taste of whisky as well as the reason of using it.


Caramel Coloring is a water-soluble food coloring produced by the heat treatment of carbohydrates in the presence of acids, alkalis, or salts. The colors range from pale yellow to amber to dark brown.

The World Health Organization recognizes four classes of Caramel Color as follows:

Class I - E150a: Plain/Caustic/Spirit caramel is usually used in Whisky and high alcohol volume spirits;

Class II - E150b: Caustic sulfite caramel is usually used in Cognac, sherry and some vinegars;

Class III - E150c: Ammonia/Baker's/Confectioner's/Beer caramel is usually used in beers, sauces, and confectionery;

Class IV - E150d: Sulfite ammonia/Acid-proof/Soft-drink caramel is usually used in acidic environments such as soft drinks.

It is still not clear when Caramel Coloring was firstly used in the whisky industry as the evidence is not conclusive. Some of the most popular arguments for its use are the following:

The Caramel Coloring makes the whisky looking darker. For marketing purposes, the psychological implication of darker=older=better was the main reason for adding E150a in the whisky.

The Caramel Coloring harmonizes the color of the whisky. Due to the fact that Single Malt Whisky is the product of blending various casks of the same distillery, the producers wanted to ensure that each range of the distillery has the same color for every bottle sold for brand consistency.

E150a is generally recognized as a safe food additive assuming that is used at levels consistent with good manufacturing practice. Scotch whisky may contain added E150a as a mean to adapt color, but no other additives.

According to Scottish Laws, the producer does not have to state the coloring on the label, unlike the German and Danish laws that demand the declaration of colouring on the label of spirits. That is why a lot of bottles that are going to be exported in those two countries they state that the whisky has caramel additive in German/Danish language only.

It is true, that many reputable Single Malt whiskies like Lagavulin 16, Laphroaig 10 and many others, use caramel coloring. The consumers have the right to know and choose what is suitable and more enjoyable to them!

"Roses are red, turtles are not! So keep drinking whisky"! Personally I enjoy it, with or without caramel coloring!

Dram it up!

Written by:

Aristides Trimindis
Co Founder of




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