This script is from the second season of Beer Notes, which you can listen to at beernotes.org.

As you learned in a previous Beer Notes, the appearance of your beer, including its color, affects how you perceive that beer. This week on Beer Notes, we’re exploring the color of beer, what creates it and why it might matter.

Beer colors range from pale to almost black. Beer and wort colors have traditionally been measured visually. In the U.S., we used to use the Lovibond scale with a well-defined set of color samples that were used for comparison. Now, however, photometric methods have replaced visual comparison and the Standard Reference Method is widely used.

There are two primary reactions that create color in beer: Maillard’s reaction and caramelization. The Maillard reaction describes the oxidation of many foods when they are toasted, cooked or exposed to air.

Amino acids link to sugar, usually prompted by heat and they produce the toasty, coffee, chocolate notes. Caramelization occurs when you heat sugar until is decomposes by itself. The longer the boil, the darker the beer and this process delivers the caramel, butter and toffee flavors.

Many other factors contribute to color as well. The alkalinity of water, the pH of the mash, longer mash times, kettle boiling, filtration and even hops and other innovative ingredients can all affect color.

And color impacts how you taste beer. The “halo effect” refers to a situation where a positive (or negative) response to one attribute leads to an over evaluation (or under evaluation) of other attributes. The color of beer can be a powerful but often subconscious generator of the “halo effect.”

In an essay titled “Beer Color is Not as Clear as it Seems,” Advanced Cicerone Miles Liebtag invites drinkers to have a blind taste test.  Taste a craft beer and predict the color based on what you are tasting. Did you guess correctly?

Color and your perception of its contribution to flavor impacts the way a beer tastes to you.

For Beer Notes, this is Ann McGinnis Hillyer.

Kristin Helf
Author: Kristin Helf

Kristin is a writer and picture-taker in Ocean City, Maryland. She likes puppies, pumpkin ales and watching movies for the Ocean City Film Festival in her spare time.

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