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Beer color is a complex and interesting facet within the world of brewery. It is often indicative of the brewing process, beer styles, and beer flavor. Beer enthusiasts can often predict beer flavor just by the color of beer alone. But can you? Join us today as we delve into the wonderful world of colored brewery and how it translates in terms of aroma, flavor, and ingredients.
Table of Contents
- What is the Color of Beer?
- What Gives Beer its Color?
- Beer Color Scale
- Objective Measuring
- Why Beer Color Is Important
- Beer Color and Food
- Beer Color Can Mean A Lot…
What is the Color of Beer?
If you are a beer connoisseur that has been drinking for a while, it should come as no surprise that beer can come in a variety of hues. From deep chocolate brown to pale gold, the color of beer will be determined by the specific process in which it is made.
Among the factors that determine beer coloration include:
- Chemical Processes
- Grains and Malt
- Mash and pH Level
What Gives Beer its Color?
As mentioned, there are several factors that play a role in the color of beer. Let’s take a dive into each one to explore how the process of making a brew can tip off a beer drinker as to what kind of beer they can expect to receive and how it will taste, just by color alone.
There are a couple of specific chemical processes that occur when making beer. Of those are the Maillard reaction and caramelization. Maillard reactions occur when amino acids are linked with sugar during intense heat processes. Brewing processes involve heating and boiling of beer. In the midst of this affair, colors and fragrances will undoubtedly emerge. The longer the brew boils the darker its hue will become. The same is true concerning the length of the caramelization process. The result of a longer caramelization procedure may be notes of burnt sugar and caramel flavor throughout the brew.
Note: It is recommended you boil beer for only an hour, though more time is sometimes needed, depending on the color you are trying to achieve. Shorter boil times will yield lighter brew results.
Grains and Malt
Believe it or not, all beers are initially red. This is because the grain starch within the beer naturally releases a red color known as melanin. However, as we’re sure you’ve noticed, there are many beers that aren’t red. This is because one of the key factors in determining beer color is the use of malt. Dark malt extract will lead to darker malt, while lighter malts may, surprisingly, also lead to a darker color. It is these chemical reactions that will determine whether you end up with a reddish beer or one that takes on a brown, golden, or pale hue.
Mash and pH Levels
As ground malted barley is steeped during brewing processes, the temperature of beer is often changed or increased. When this happens, the color of a brew will often change, usually due to the pH level. One simple rule to remember is that the higher the pH the darker the brew will be. If the pH falls you can expect the beer to lighten slightly (which also results in more sour beers). In addition, avid beer drinkers and craft brewers alike can also attest that the longer the decoction mash is in contact with grains during the steeping process, the darker the color of the beer will become.
As you’ve likely noticed by now, time is of the essence when trying to achieve most beers with a dark color. As such, you should remember that the amount of time a beer ages, the darker it will become. It will also taste much less bitter as hop alpha acid breaks down and malt flavors begin to emerge.
Beer Color Scale
If you’re looking for a beer color chart, you have several options available to you. You can use the Standard Reference Method Chart, Lovibond scale, Malt Color units, the EBC Scale, or even your own objective measurements.
Let’s take a deeper look at each one.
SRM Color Chart
The SRM color chart stands for standard reference method and is a very common resource for measuring beer color. This method uses passing light to determine the exact shade of beer, though it should be noted that beer color is often highly subjective.
Nevertheless, the amount of light absorbed through 1 centimeter of the beer is what determines the SRM score. This is usually done with a light of a specific wavelength of passing light in order to cut some of the subjectivity out of the process.
- 2-5 = gold/pale= light lager
- 16-25=copper brown
- 25-39= dark brown to black
- 40 or more= black or paque (such as an Imperial Stout)
The Lovibond beer color scale utilizes glass plates to determine beer’s color. It compares wort samples to that of the SRM to arrive at a final decision about the color of the beer. Though the method is somewhat dated, it is one of the more popular ways of determining beer color, especially on package labels. It is often seen as a deviation from SRM, though it isn’t the exact same thing. If you want, you can convert SRM to Lovibond (degL) and vice versa using online platforms that can compute the equation for you.
You may also simply use the conversion equation below:
- SRM = (degL x 1.35) – 0.6
- degL = (SRM + 0.6) / 1.35
Malt Color Units
Malt color units, otherwise known as MCU, are yet another great way to estimate the color of beer. It is useful for determining beer color that will be derived in recipes that call for multiple grains. At times, MCU and SRM values may appear the same, however, much of the time, they will differ.
The EBC scale, founded by and named after the European brewing convention, is also a widely used scale when it comes to beer’s color. The numerical color value of this scale may be lower than values given in other systems, namely SRM. Still it is very useful in determining beer color and other liquids of similar color schemes.
Of course, there is a type of beer color measurement that is completely subjective. To perform this method, you simply need a neutral background, a glass of beer, natural lighting, and a set of eyes.
To determine the color of your beer at home, simply position your glass of beer in the path of the natural light against a white or neutral background. Use paper towels as your backdrop if you have to to ensure you can see it properly.
Compare the color of your beer to the countless available beer color darkness scales available online. These will help you be able to spot the exact match of your brew, and thus, will help you label the color correctly.
Color of Beer
Now that we’ve discussed some of the physics behind why beer colors are what they are and how they are measured, it is time to discuss what each color means. From rust red color hues to pale malts, we’ve got the details on what you can generally expect to receive, flavor-wise, from most colors of the beer color palette.
Darker beer is often a fan-favorite because of its deep and robust flavor. Its deep brown hue is usually the result of roasted malts that yield coffee flavors, caramel notes, and even the taste of bitterness. Common aromas include dark chocolate when dealing with darker beers like these. In addition, dark beers can often take on seasonal twists, including pumpkin, chocolate malts, ginger, and so much more.
Medium Gold Beer
Coming from dark brown to medium gold, these amber ales are likely brewed with barley or wheat. Still, some brews, such that retain a reddish appearance, are likely to be more malt-forward than others. Many of these types of brews will be peppered with nutty or fruit-like overtones.
Light Colored Beers
Beers that appear pale gold may be more acidic at times. They’ll likely be citrusy, acidic, peppery, and sharp. This sort of light-colored beer may also have specialty ingredients added, such as a tropical fruit flavor.
On the flip side, light lagers may smell like sweet corn and pair deliciously with a spicy meal.
Why Beer Color Is Important
Beer color not only signifies what processes were involved in arriving at the particular color brew you see, but also is important for identifying what a beer might taste like.
It is important to note that not every beer color will be a tell-tale sign of how a beer may taste. For example, there are some brews that are the same color that may taste completely different. Therefore, it is helpful to get familiar with the types of beer that are out there as well as what you like, and stick with that.
Beer Color and Food
Now that you know what different beer colors signify, it’s time to put that knowledge to good use. We thought it might be interesting to provide you with a brief and to-the-point guide on what kinds of beers pair best with certain meals. This is helpful if you are new to the beer scene, or if you simply want to branch out from the typical brew that you’re used to.
Though this list isn’t exhaustive, the following are a few common beer colors and how they fare with particular types of food:
Light beers are often crisp and refreshing–especially when drinking a light lager. Other light beer types are often made with wheat and are essenced with light fruity flavors like stone fruit, banana, or citrus.
Light beers and lagers pair especially well with:
- Spicy Food
- Hot Wings
- French Fries
- Hot Dogs
Indian Pale Ales, or IPAs, (INTERNAL LINK) are medium-amber colored and tend to have a strong bitter flavor thanks to the presence of more hops (as is in the case of double or triple IPAs). Craft brewers often take liberties with the flavoring on this type of beer to make the bitterness more palatable. Flavors often blended with IPA beers include citrus, tropical fruit, and sometimes even vanilla.
The following foods pair best with medium-amber colored IPAs:
- Mozzarella Sticks
- French Fries
- Barbecued Foods
Amber ales tend to look reddish-gold in appearance and can often feature caramel notes along with the strong presence of roasted malt flavors. Despite the description, it may surprise you to know that these brews aren’t usually remarkably sweet. As such, these types of red-tinted beers are usually used to cleanse the palate.
Try your next amber ale with the following entrees:
- Jerk Chicken
- Barbecued Pork
Just as their color signifies, brown ales tend to give off chocolate, dry, nutty flavors that can pair well with almost anything. Some brewers have a certain disdain for these types of ales as they don’t give off the same hoppy flavor as many other varieties do these days. Even so, the fact that brown ales are so versatile in terms of food pairings really make them worth the sip.
Pair your brown ale with the following:
Dark Brown or Black Stout
Similar to brown ales, the color of a stout says it all. You can expect chocolate and coffee flavors to stud this dark merging on black colored beer, though the flavor of the beer may not be as pronounced overall as its appearance would indicate. Many stouts are mild-tasting and go great with certain kinds of food, including chocolate desserts.
Try these pairings the next time you drink a stout:
- Chocolate Mousse
- Chocolate Truffles
Beer Color Can Mean A Lot…
Truth be told, the color of beer signifies a lot about the way that it was made, and also, how it might taste. Note that not every beer that is the same color will taste the same, but knowing what a beer’s color is can often help you better determine whether or not you’ll enjoy it even before it hits your tongue.
Still wondering what color is beer? Beer can range from yellow, orange, red, and even brownish-black. The color of the beer usually points back to the brewing process, however, it often yields clues as to how the brew will taste as well. Still, color isn’t always the best predictor of how a beer will taste.
Beer color flavor wheels are often used to graphically determine and describe the flavoring of a particular type of beer. You can often find color flavor wheels online to help you better describe a beer and its overall taste and aroma.
The fact that beer colors vary so much should be an indicator that different beer styles will yield different beer coloration depending on the processes involved. There are many factors that play a role in beer colors from pH to specialty ingredients. As you learn more about different beers and the processes used to make them, you may be able to better predict how a beer will taste just by looking at it.
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