Many reposado and añejo tequilas will have <0.05% of caramel coloring! This amounts to just one or two drops per 750ml bottle, but never the less it’s there to fool the consumer into believing that their tequila has acquired a richer, fuller more delicious color.
Does it affect the taste? Although we are talking about caramel, the sweetening effect is always negligible, but again never the less present. The awful reputation of gold tequila gives caramel coloring it’s infamous reputation. Some even believe that the bad headache you can get from certain tequilas is also related to coloring additives, though it’s unlikely that caramel is the real culprit.
Caramel color has always been bad news for tequila. There is little or no benefit to taste when added to an aged reposado tequila or anejo tequila for coloration purposes. Traditionally, caramel coloring is added to non-aged, mixto tequilas to change the consumer’s perception of what they think is in the bottle. This is a cruel deception. There’s no difference between a blanco tequila mixto and an gold tequila mixto, however, dark colored liquors are often perceived to be smoother and more refined, which is why most people will choose the latter when given the choice.
The result has been a race to deceive. This is a dirty trick played on the consumer from the mixto tequila community, and especially shameful with aged tequilas. If the bottle says 100% blue agave, that’s what the consumer should get.
To get the same natural color from barrel aging tequila time after time is incredibly difficult, so caramel color plays an important role in maintaining consistency over each batch of tequila that’s made. To find a tequila using the least amount of caramel, look at two bottles with different lot numbers and see how close the colors are. Chances are, if they are exactly the same, caramel was the active ingredient used to ensured the same color. This is why the most amazing, and truly the greatest anejo tequila is small batch, handcrafted with subtle differences from vintage to Vintage
What’s in anejo tequila these days besides caramel coloring? Essences! These days, just because the bottle says 100% blue agave doesn’t mean that it is. In the case of a single essence, we are talking about a few drops per bottle, maybe even less as there might more than one essence in the mix to give a more complex profile. Again it all comes down to consistency. How can you guarantee that a bourbon barrel will be able to impart the right amount of vanilla flavor and wood to your tequila after 6 months of aging? This is again where subtle amounts of additives and the can help maintain the consistency. Does the tequila lover want absolute consistency or are they willing to understand the vagaries of nature and the manufacturing process, like wine lovers? Although the decision is up to the consumer, in many cases they are not given the chance to decide for themselves.
A discussion with a flavor supplier in Guadalajara led me to the source of where these additives are actually coming from. They are imported from the USA, and over the last 2 years, demand from the big tequila producers has shamefully skyrocketed for oak essences, both white and natural.
An essence of any plant or fruit can be obtained naturally from steam distillation, cold pressing of centrifugal methods, but in case of white oak, it’s artificially formulated by flavor companies, who use their vast flavor databases to create additives complex enough to distinguish between a French and American white oak varieties.
Beware tequila lovers. Before grabbing for that huge label, check out a small handcrafted tequila. I’m biased of course, but there are many wonderful handcrafted small batch tequilas on the market that are true 100% blue agave.
Of course, you can always open up a bottle of Voodoo Tiki Tequila. There are no essences or caramel colors. There is of course one thing that no other tequila has . . .
. . .there’s magic inside.
Voodoo Tiki Tequila contains no artificial coloring or flavors. Only 100% blue agave – Single Barrel – Reposado and Anejo Tequila