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Beer is such an amazing drink; it can be as light as pale straw or as dark as the darkest night.  Let us take the time to examine beer color.

What influences beer color?   How is it measured?  These are commonly asked questions among new brewers.  If you are competing in homebrewing competition, color value is only 3 points out of 50.  It is also part of the 10 points available in “overall impression.”  If you do compete, 2 points can be the difference between first in style and a gold medal or not medaling at all.

What determines beer color?

90% or so of beer color is determined by the color of the malt.  Grain color is determined by a process call kilning.  After the grain is allowed to sprout and then dried and processed,  it is then roasted.  Light roasting results in a lighter colored grain where longer and warmer roasting makes the grain darker and more caramelized.  The darkness of the grain is measured in degrees Lovibond. Joseph Williams Lovibond devised the scale in 1883.  The determination of the degrees Lovibond takes place by comparing the color of the substance to a series of amber to brown glass slides, usually by a colorimeter. Grain is still purchased using degrees Lovibond.  Pilsner malt run about 1.4 degrees L. and leaves a very light colored beer, where Black Patent malt, one of the darkest measures at a staggering 500 degrees L.

Differences in brewing conditions can lead to color changes in finished beer.  These effects can change the color by a factor of around 5 degrees L.

·      As the alkalinity of the water increases, so does the extraction rate of the coloring pigments in malt. The mash pH has the same effect, and increasing pH leads to wort with deeper color.

·      Mash Color increases with the amount of contact time with the grains. A prolonged mash will produce a deeper-colored beer than a short mash.

·      The Maillard reaction takes place as wort is boiled, also referred to as kettle carmalization.  Wort color increases with boil time. A fact that is overlooked is that wort simmering has the same effect.

How is the color of beer measured?

Degrees Lovibond determines grain color, but the Standard Reference Method (SRM) replaced degrees Lovibond in measuring beer color as of 1953, but the two are related.

To determine SRM, first we need to determine MCU or Malt Color Units.  That is done with the formula:

·      MCU = (Weight of grain in lbs) * (Color of grain in degrees Lovibond) / (volume in gallons)

Once that is determined, you simply plug that number into this formula:

·      SRM color = 1.4922 * (MCU ** 0.6859)

Is there an easier way to determine beer color?  Of course there is: there is software out there called BeerSmith2, which makes it very simple.  Plug in the degrees L. and the boil time an presto, you have an SRM and even an illustrated color!

I hope this helped some of you with a few facts about beer color.  In conclusion, grain is around 90% of color and the other 10% is determined by boil time and water chemistry.

​Beer Color 101

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