Black whisky

page 283

Robert Hosken was not the first person to darken whisky by fake colouring.

Image courtesy Nolan Glass, England

Image courtesy Nolan Glass, England

It was rumoured that Robert Hosken had his whisky coloured with Parisian Essence, but he denied it and I could not publish rumours—especially one so libellous. I needed proof. Best of all, I needed an eye-witness. I asked a one who might know and that one whispered me the name of a person who would know. I traced that person down by ringing every person of that surname in the phone book and then interviewed him. He was in Hosken’s distillery at the time of the alleged event but he was not exactly an eyewitnesses. You can read what he told me under "Fake Whisky" (Part 2). Robert Hosken, notwithstanding this caveat, threatened to sue if the story was published and the publisher removed the section printed below.

Note: Colouring whisky is commonplace in Scottish, Irish and American blended whiskies, but uncommon in their single malts. In Australia it is rarely (if ever) practiced, and many distilleries expressly state that they do not colour their whisky; nevertheless it is not illegal in Australia nor is it banned under the Tasmanian whisky producer’s Code of Practice.

The Corrected Text

Anything distilled in a still made of cast iron would emerge blacker than the devil’s backside, but it is unlikely any whisky was ever made in an iron pot, and in harbour taverns in convict days if you ordered a “whisky black” it arrived milky white, for it was a cocktail of whisky and laudanum—it was half morphine. But when Robert Hosken was bottling his first whisky it emerged from the chill filter almost transparent in colour. Mortified, Hosken added something that gave the young spirit a blackish character. ‘It wasn’t a lovely golden brown, it was a blackish-brown,’ Hosken's contract bottler David Thomas told me. Thomas assumed it was caramel colouring, but he never saw the colouring or the process and he suggested that the colourant used was almost certainly not—as the popular story goes—Parisian Essence.

Other distillers have created black whiskies. Small Concern’s first whisky, aged in ex-cabernet wine casks began to shade into so gloomy a brown they whipped it out of that dark cask. Lark Distillery achieved the blackest whisky ever. The first time they filled a Para Port cask its century-old staves were so heavily instilled with muscatt that even after a very short dip the whisky poured out so pitch black they decided they couldn’t rescue it, let alone bottle it.

Bernard LloydComment