How Does Beer Get Its Color?

The primary ingredients in beer include water, yeast, hops, and grains (malted barley or other grains). With our evolving taste in beer, this has led many breweries to introduce a variety of light, dark, seasonal and fruity beers. With such a variety of flavors and beer colors, what exactly is being added to beer to have so many variations?

Beer Colors

There are a variety of terms to describe the color of beer including pale, blonde, honey-like, straw, pale and much more, but how exactly does beer get its color?

The first method for measuring beer color was invented by J.W. Lovibond in 1873. The Lovibond system originally used colored slides to measure the degrees of color, but the beer color was later graded by comparing it to glass standards.

The Lovibond system’s limitations became apparent. By the 1950s, the American Society of Brewing Chemists utilized the Standard Reference Method (SRM) color system and the Europeans developed their color system called the European Brewing Convention (EBC). Both systems are derived from using light spectrophotometer technology. If you don’t have a spectrophotometer laying around, you can use calibrated color reference cards.

The most significant source of beer color comes from the pigments in the grain. The longer the grains are dried and the higher the drying temperature, the darker the grist and the more opaque the beer will be.

Caramelization also plays a role in the final color. When you heat sugar at a high temperature, the sugar molecules will fall apart. This darkens the malt.

What are Adjuncts?

Adjuncts, a non-malt source of fermentable sugars, can be added to the brewing process which will impact the color. Types of adjuncts may include barley, rye, oats, maize, honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, sugar, fruit, and other natural ingredients. Adjuncts can be added to lighten the body, prevent cloying sweetness, provide a silky mouthfeel and produce flavored beers like pumpkin ales.

Why the negativity on beer colors and adjuncts? It may stem from the idea of an all-malt beer offering a higher quality and full-bodied flavor and beers with adjuncts are viewed as low quality.

Beer has a rich history and even the SRM and EBC methods have limitations, but do a reasonable job. We hope this article helps you understand how beer gets its color and how it can change based on the brewing process.