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Is Glitter and Colorants Legal in Gin?
PLEASE NOTE: This article is written in the context of South African Law. Clients from other countries must please review their local legislation.
Many times, inspiration for an article comes from questions posed by our Clients. Over the past two days we received three inquiries that were closely related, hence this article.
The most recent inquiry, received via Email this morning, was simply: "Can you maybe give me more info on the law in South Africa for adding Glitter or Colorants in Gin?"
The following is the response sent.
Is it Legal to add Glitter or Colorants in Gin?
The question has a simple answer – Glitter and Colorants is illegal in Gin in South Africa.
However, due to the large number of illegal Gins in the market space that do contain Glitter or Colorants, you might need a more detailed answer, so, two things:
- Everything we do in the spirit market in South Africa is controlled by the National Liquor Products Act Regulations. In this case specifically, Table 6 of the Regulations, List of Substances that may be added to Liquor Products.
- Your query can be divided into 5 distinct categories of additives, namely Colorants, Extracts of Plant Origin, Gold Flakes, Glitter and Pearl Dust.
Now, all of this is explored in great detail in our W4 – Infused Spirits Workshop, our C10 – Comprehensive Distilling Course and of course our B1 – Craft Distilling Business Course, but herewith the quick and dirty version.
How does Table 6 of the National Liquor Products Act Regulations work?
Table 6 of the National Liquor Products Act Regulations is a table consisting out of three columns, which I refer too as the What, Where and How Columns. More accurately: Name of Substance, Liquor Products to which Substance may be added, and Manner and Conditions of Addition. To be lawful, all three columns need to allow the use.
In other words:
- If a substance is not listed in Column 1 of Table 6, it may not be used in any Liquor Product.
- If a substance is listed in Column 1 of Table 6, but your Spirit Category, i.e. Gin, is not listed in Column 2 of Table 6, then you are not allowed to use it in that Spirit Category.
- If a substance is listed in Column 1 of Table 6, and your Spirit Category, i.e. Gin is listed in Column 2 of Table 6, but the minimum dosage required is more or less than what you want to use, or you intend to use it in a different way than prescribed, then you are not allowed to use it.
There is one slight - not exception, but different application – to this rule, and that would be in the case where you want to add a commercial product, i.e. a Generic Alcohol Stabilizer. Obviously that commercial product will not be listed in Table 6, but that does not necessarily mean you cannot use it. We now need to look at the individual ingredients of the product. If ALL of the ingredients of the product appears in Table 6, and the column requirements are fulfilled, then you are allowed to use it.
That is the basis of how Table 6 works.
Is Glitter and Colorants covered by the National Liquor Products Act Regulations?
You would like to add Colorants or Glitter into Gin, so let us look at the 5 sub categories.
- Colorants – Table 6 does not have a Substance called “Colorants” listed, but it does have a large number of actual “Colorants” in it. Examples are Beetroot Red, Betanin, Brilliant Blue, Caramel, Chlorophyll, Carotenes, etc. There are therefore many colorants to choose from. However, under NO colorant is Gin an allowed Spirit Category under Column 2, therefore you are not allowed to use any colorant in Gin.
- Extracts of Plant Origin - The official DAFF (Department of Agriculture – who controls Spirits in South Africa) position is that Gin in South Africa is not allowed to have a colour, EXCEPT if that colour is a result of direct infusion or addition of a Botanical (referred to as Flavourings of Plant Origin or Extracts thereof). For instance, if I want to make Rooibos Gin, and I let the Rooibos soak or macerate in the Gin for the intention of adding Rooibos Flavour to the Gin, and as a result of this maceration process the Gin picks up an Amber colour, then that is acceptable. However, if I add something in JUST to add colour – even if it is natural – and it has NO impact on flavour, then it is not allowed. The challenge that comes in with this is that many natural colour compounds are UV and pH sensitive, so over time the colour may fade or change, but that is just their nature, and part of the challenge of making a proper Craft Product.
- Gold Flakes – Gold Flakes is listed in Table 6 under Column 1, but under Column 2, its use is limited to Wine, Grape Based Liquor and Spirit Based Liquor. Now please note that the use of Grape Based Liquor and Spirit Based Liquor is sometimes misleading, as people interpret that to be all Spirits or all Grape based products. In actual fact both terms are clearly defined in the Law, and refers to different interpretations than what is commonly accepted. Spirit Based Liquor for instance is the all-encompassing term for Spirit Liqueurs, Spirit Cocktails (Spirit Aperitif), Cream Liqueur, Spirit Cooler and Bitters, as defined by Table 5 of the National Liquor Products Act Regulations. So, once again, Gold Flakes is illegal in Gin.
- Glitter – Glitter is not listed in Table 6 of the National Liquor Products Act Regulations. So we need to look at the ingredients of Glitter – specifically Food Grade Glitter which is deemed safe for Human Consumption. Common ingredients in edible glitter or dust include sugar, acacia (Arabic Gum), maltodextrin, cornstarch, and colour additives specifically approved for food use, including mica-based pearlescent pigments and Brilliant Blue. Now, first and foremost you first need to find a Glitter that will not dissolve in Alcohol, but more importantly, are the ingredients allowed? The only ingredient in the above list that is allowed in Gin is sugar. The rest are either in Table 6 Column 1, but not allowed for use in Gin in Column 2, or in the case of Maltodextrin, Cornstarch and Mica, they are not listed in Table 6 at all, and is therefore not legal in any product.
- Pearl Dust – Pearl Dust is what is commonly used to add “Shimmer” to a product. Again, like Glitter, Pearl Dust is not listed in Table 6, so we need to look at the ingredients. Pearl dust shares many of the basic Glitter Ingredients, but also includes (depending on brand) a mixture of titanium dioxide, iron dioxide, carmine, and mica, none of which are listed in Table 6, and all of which is therefore not legal in any product.
Why are there Illegal Gins on the Market?
So, you may now ask, why is there so many products on the shelf that do actually contain these illegal substances? Well, firstly you need to check if they are really Gins? Remember that some of these additives are allowed, but in Spirit Aperitifs or Spirit Liqueurs. Read the labels carefully. The product may LOOK like a Gin, or you may ASSUME it is a Gin because of Brand Recognition (Beefeater Triple Berry for instance) but the product is NOT a Gin, and can therefore use a Colourant or some other additive.
Secondly, there are products on the market that were not submitted to DAFF for Product Approval. Sadly, in South Africa, the Product Approval process is not mandatory but voluntary, so products just get placed on the market without ever being tested or approved. However, that still does not make them legal. Although the Law does not obligate submission to DAFF for approval, it does require adherence to the Law, hence the product is still illegal, and subject to removal from the marketplace, fines and penalties. That is why we always recommend product submission to our clients and trainees.
PLEASE NOTE: It has happened in the past that certain DAFF officials in outlying offices have approved certain products that were in contravention of the law. These products are more difficult to remove from the marketplace, but in the end they are still illegal and in contravention of the National Liquor Products Act, and they will eventually be removed.
DAFF has recently created a Gin Task Force to investigate the large number of illegal Gins on the Market – not just Gins with Colour and other additives, but Gins containing Honey for instance are also illegal (Honey is in Table 6, but in Column 2 it is only allowed to be used in Husk Spirit (Grappa), Brandy and Spirit Based Liquor (Liqueurs, Aperitifs, Coolers and Bitters). The COVID-19 crises has however delayed action on their part, but soon you will see a crack-down on these products.
Changes are coming however ….
Will I never be allowed to use Glitter or Colorant in Gin?
Some big brands have requested an alteration to the National Liquor Products Act Regulations to allow colorants in Gin. The request came from them, as in mass production it is not feasible and prohibitively expensive to use Natural Botanicals for Color. We have however opposed this request, and by we, I refer to the Southern African Craft Distilling Institute (SACDI).
The reason we opposed the request is that if Colorants are allowed, Flavorants will end up in the product as well, and that would be the end of the Craft Gin movement, to the detriment of both the Producers, and more importantly, the Consumers. People will literally just be buying Flavored Vodka with Chemicals in it.
SACDI does not want to limit innovation or experimentation, but it must be done in such a way that the Crafters and Craft Consumers are protected. Hence we have made a counter proposal, and we have requested that the current “Gin” category be abolished, and we instead adopt Multiple Gin Categories, as is already the case in the USA, UK and EU, where we have Distilled Gin, Infused Gin and Compound Gin.
- Distilled Gin – Colorless, all Botanicals added in a still, similar to London Dry Style
- Infused Gin – Has a color, all natural Botanicals, the use of a still is optional, similar to Bathtub Gin Style
- Compound Gin – Anything goes. Colorants, Flavorants, Glitter, etc.
Using these suggested definitions will allow experimentation and innovation with products, which lies at the core of Craft, but still, through proper labeling and use of the correct Spirit Categories, communicate to the consumer what he or she is buying and drinking.
We have also applied for a Spiced Rum Category (currently illegal), an Agave Spirit Category (to allow for legal Wooded Agave Spirit – currently illegal), a Mampoer Category (currently does not exist) and the legalization of Honey to be used – not only in Gin – but Spiced Rum as well.
Currently these applications are either under review or already approved, but the implementation has been delayed due to COVID-19.
The future will show us how successful we have been.