Are you beer color blind?

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A Cambridge Brew House sampler, submitted photo.

Do you like dark beers or avoid them like the plague? Why is a fest beer golden or an Oktoberfest orangish brown? Does the color effect the flavor? What is color and how is it measured in beer? The frequencies at which an object radiates electromagnetic radiation determines the color we see. This ranges from 420 nm, which appears indigo through 750 nm, seen as a red so deep it looks black. Beer color is measured on a scale from 1 to 60, known as the Standard Reference Method or SRM for short.

What does this mean to your taste buds? Well, the lighter your beer’s color, the lower its SRM—the darker your beer, the higher its SRM. According to the Beer Judge Certification Program, an American light lager has an SRM of 2 to 3 (CBH S189 is about 3 SRM). American IPAs range from SRM 6 to 14 (CBH IPA is about 7 SRM) and an Irish stout should be between SRM 25 to 40 (CBH 3 Steve stout is about 36 SRM). While the color of your beer may provide the first clues about its taste, color is not a reliable indication of the actual taste.

Every stage of brewing beer affects the final color and taste. One of the most influential factors is the types of grain used. Malting is the process of converting raw grains into something that can be used for brewing called malts. The more the grains are roasted after malting, the darker its color. This coloring is due to the Maillard reaction and contributes a lot of your beer’s flavors and aromas, including caramel, coffee and chocolate as the most noticeable.

Once the grains and malts are chosen, time and pH in the mashing process also affects color and flavors. During fermentation, yeast and particle removal will change the color and flavor of the final beer.  Then of course there are adjuncts that get added to the beer. Many adjuncts will radically affect the beer’s color, especially fruits like raspberries or blueberries added to cream ale.

Just because a beer is dark it does not mean it is heavy or higher in alcohol. A Guiness stout is a light thin beer with an ABV (alcohol by volume) about 4.2 percent but dark in color. Then on the lighter color side, a golden strong ale is usually thicker tasting and above 8 percent ABV. Try a range of different colored beers and see how the colors affect what you really taste. Many breweries and brew pubs will let you have smaller samples so you don’t have to drink a six pack. Try many different beers to see which ones you really enjoy.