Beer comes in a kaleidoscope of hues, from pale straw to abyssal black, with varying degrees of clarity along the way. Most of the color in beer comes from grain, and a grain’s color is determined by how it’s dried and kilned before it gets to the brewhouse. The longer the drying process and the higher the drying temperature, the darker the grain and the more opaque the beer made from it.
Gently kilned malt might make a beer that’s clear, bright, and blonde, while heavily roasted malts can result in a beer black as outer space. By adjusting the grain bill and using malts of different toasting levels, brewers can make beers of virtually any shade and hue. Fruit and vegetable additions can also tweak a beer’s color into brilliant (if slightly unnatural-looking) shades of pink, red, purple and green.
At Four Peaks, we measure the color of our beers using the Standard Reference Method, or SRM, which is the generally agreed-upon gauge used throughout the American beer industry. At the risk of getting too technical, SRM is the absorbance value of light with a wavelength of 430nm in beer in a half-inch-diameter jar. What that means in the real world is that the color of almost all beers can be assigned an SRM value of 1-40. Clear golden beers, like our Golden Lager, usually have SRM values of 4 or 5; amber-colored beers like Kilt Lifter are around 16 SRM; black stouts such as Sirius Black are often 40 SRM or higher.
While color can tell you a lot about a beer, one thing it can’t convey is alcoholic strength. Many drinkers make the mistake of assuming darker beers are naturally higher in ABV, but this is often not the case. For example: Our barleywine, Hopsquatch, comes in at 11% ABV but is the same color as Hop Knot (6.7% ABV) and much paler than our Oatmeal Stout (5.2% ABV).
Got questions about this topic or a suggestion for what we cover next week? Let us know in the comments.