Last month I discussed the effect of the natural ageing process on cognac colour but not all cognacs on the shelf have obtained their colour this way. Some of the big cognac houses try to provide a false maturity to their cognacs by adding a colouring agent. Most common of these colour additives is caramel and even quite small additions can make a relatively large difference since its use is usually in relatively young spirit that has only been aged for perhaps 2-3 years.
Previously I discussed how different types, sizes and toasting of oak barrels all make a difference to the colour of the cognac but colouring in this natural way takes a long time and many of the big cognac houses cannot wait long enough for this to occur. Much of the spirit they sell is young and so to give it more of a cognac-like appearance, caramel is added. Usually when caramel is used sugar syrup is also added to obscure the fiery flavour of the young cognac. Caramel can often be detected by sight as it will provide a red tinge to the spirit in the bottle.
A more natural way of colouring cognac, other than by the ageing process, is with the addition of ‘boise’. It is made by boiling oak chips in cognac over and over again to produce a dark syrupy liquid and this is then added to the cognac. Although this is a much more natural method of providing colour it can also give the cognac a slightly bitter flavour. Over time this bitterness disappears and the result is a more intense flavour and richness but its use has to be carefully controlled to achieve this effect. When ‘boise’ is used correctly, the appearance of the cognac remains natural and it can, we believe, enhance the flavour and long term stability of some very old cognacs.
All of the cognacs we supply at Hermitage Cognacs are aged naturally so the colours have not been altered with the addition of caramel. For example, the Hermitage Chez Richon 1979 Cognac has been aged for 25 years but still retains a relatively light colour.
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