Whiskey Starts Out Clear
Part of the ambiance of whiskey is that rich amber color that reminds you that you're drinking something that was carefully aged for years, like a prized pair of Levis or a tweed jacket that you've adorned with leather elbow patches as the fabric frayed.
But you might be surprised to learn that the color actually is added on, in the same fashion. Ethyl alcohol is clear, and so are most varieties of whiskey at the start. But after distilling, the liquor is aged in oak casks that have been air-dried for nine months and then heated on the inside to give the wood a charred "red layer" that is rich in wood sugars and caramelized tannin. Those chemicals, when they're absorbed by the whiskey, change its taste and give it the amber color [source: Waldman].