Drinking a beer is obviously a sensory experience, but it goes beyond just taste. Often, your first impression of one is based on how it looks. In addition to head and clarity, color is a primary visual cue that can tell you a lot about it. Keep reading to discover how brewers achieve different colors of their brews, how beer color is measured, and what clues the color of a beer can give you about its taste.

Why Are Some Beers Different Colors?

All beer is made with malt, and the malt bill, or the types of malt used in a particular beer, is what affects the color.

Amy Crook, Quality Control Manager here at Firestone Walker, explained it further: “Different malts are kilned for varying lengths of time and at varying temperatures, and these variables lead to differences in the color and the roasted flavors of the malts. For example, pilsner malt is very lightly roasted, which keeps a mild flavor and light color. Chocolate malt, on the other hands, is roasted a higher temperature and for a longer duration, which lends to a darker color and more toasted flavor.”

Can Beer Color Indicate Flavor?

In short, yes. The color of a beer can give you a good idea of certain characters of the beer.

The simplest way to think about beer color and flavor is to split them into three categories – light, dark, and golden.

“Lighter colored beers are lighter in malt character and will evoke white bread or crackers,” Amy said. Think Cal Poly Gold or 805 Cerveza. “Darker beers are going to have a more roasted malt flavor that might have you thinking of chocolatey, toasted bread, or roast coffee flavors.” Wookey Jack and Parabola are good examples of this type of beer. In the middle of these two are golden beers, which have caramel, bread-like qualities. Think DBA.

Why Do Brewers Measure Beer Color?

Measuring beer color is a way to ensure consistency across batches. At Firestone Walker, we measure using a UV-spectrophotometer, and we follow the standard reference method system (SRM). The SRM scale assigns a number to the beer’s color, and by ensuring each batch of a particular beer is the same number on the SRM scale, we’re able to confirm that our malt usage is consistent across these brews.

But like all things worth explaining, there are some exceptions to this ‘rule,’ like red ales and fruit beers. Primal Elements, for example, has a bright orange color that doesn’t accurately read on the SRM scale. Amy explained that even though these beers don’t have an accurate reading on the SRM scale, we still measure it so that we have a number we can use for a quick consistency check for future batches. What we also do for these beers is use another color measurement called the tri-stimulus method, which measures color on the visible spectrum. This method provides a series of numbers that we plug into a color software to identify the exact shade of beer, helping us confirm the consistency in our fruit dosing.