Beer spans an endless array of colours from pale lagers to the blackness of stouts. For the big breweries, beer colour is a quality measurement as they make the same beer recipe week in week out and so colour variation is expected to be minuscule. But for the small craft brewer, reproducibility is not such an important factor as they have less control over the dozens of factors influencing the colour.
The formality of beer colour
In America, you have the Standard Reference Model (SRM) whilst Europe’s version is called the European Brewing Convention (EBC). The SRM colour chart (above) shows 40 levels, the higher the SRM, the darker the beer. Values do go higher than 40 but to the eye, they are all black.
The tables below give some common descriptive points and map some common beer styles onto SRM scale. Note this is not a perfect world and some styles map over a range of colours.
|Beer Colors and SRM Value|
|Beer Style SRM Color Scale|
|Pilsner||2 – 6|
|Bavarian Weizen||3 – 6|
|English Golden Ale||4 – 6|
|Belgian Blonde Ale||4 – 7|
|Saison||4 – 14|
|American Pale Ale||5 – 10|
|Imperial Pale Ale||5 – 11|
|Maibock||6 – 11|
|Bière de Garde||6 – 19|
|Pale Ale, Bitter, ESB||8 – 14|
|Märzen||8 – 17|
|Amber Ale||10 – 17|
|English Brown Ale||12 – 22|
|Dark Mild Ale||12 – 25|
|Bock||15 – 22|
|Porter||20 – 35|
|Oatmeal Stout||22 – 40|
|Foreign Stout||30 – 40|
|Imperial Stout||35 – 80|
|Source: Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher|
So what does this mean to us the beer lover?
Of course, it’s far less necessary for a beer drinker, to know the SRM of his or her favourite brew. The rules aren’t hard and fast, especially as craft beer keeps diversifying styles, so keep an open mind.
We drink with our eyes and our first impression of a beer is its visual appearance. A beer’s colour can give you an idea about how it’ll taste, thus when drinking a beer take some time to look, then taste.
How does the beer look? Is it pale, black, cloudy or does it have a large foam top? Is it flat or does it have bubbles? The answers to these questions point towards the beer’s style.
It may be the case that you like some beers of a particular style but not all. This could be because the colour range of a style spans a wider colour range and remember that ‘something’ makes the colour and that ‘something’ will equally impact the taste. Try thinking about this as if you naturally like certain colour beers then this gives you some idea of trying other types of beer in similar colour ranges.
Although when talking about food pairings and beer you are told to think about the alcohol content, hoppiness vs. bitterness and so on which is easy to do in your own home but when out and about it is more difficult when trying new beers. A very simple rule of thumb is to balance the colour of the beer against the colour of the food, creamy pasta with a pilsner or golden ale, chicken burger with an amber ale, beef burger an IPA, beef stew with a bitter or stout.
Next time you are out drinking have a think about the appearance, but remember whatever the colour, enjoy!
If you like to understand more about tasting beer have a look at tasting Beer by Randy Mosher: