There Are Now Colors In Beer I Don’t Recognize

There Are Now Colors In Beer I Don’t Recognize

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

There are a lot of numbers in beer – ABV, IBU, SRM, DOW (days on wood, my favorite). Most don’t mean what casual drinkers think they mean and there is a lot of subjectivity in most. Not so with SRM (standard reference measurement) a measure of the color of beer. SRM ranges from 1-40, with a 3-5 for pilsners and light lagers and 40s for black as night stouts.

There are other methods for defining beer color, but SRM seems to be the one that has taken off in recent times. Pilsners, berliner weisses, and Belgian golden strongs are all going to come in below a 10 on SRM. Most beers are going to show up in the teens, everything from marzens to APAs to amber ales. Darker beer styles can be all over the place. A porter can range from 20-40, as can stouts, although bocks will usually top out in the 30s.

Right or wrong, many beers are hard to distinguish from these McDonalds slushies. image credit: McDonalds

However, new trends in beer have rendered SRM a fairly useless number in many cases. New England IPAs and milkshake IPAs have very dense colors, and in recent years many of those colors have been something previously unrecognizable in beer. This isn’t meant to be a scientific piece or a rant, but I have noticed recently that colors have become a big trend in beer, and those colors, combined with styles of beer, have become very intense. It’s like a kid’s playground in the pub.

Color can be broken down into three parameters: hue, chroma, and value. Hue is what we normally define as color – what you would call it, orange, umber, golden, purple etc. Chroma is how saturated a color appears. Finally, value is the intensity of the color, or how much brightness it has.

All three parameters have been involved in the recent craft beer trend to bright colors. There are hues showing up in your pint glass that haven’t been used before. And because of the styles of beer that have become popular recently – hazys, milkshakes, heavily fruited sours – those hues have been converted from see through beers, to thick, dense, heavily colored beers. That means a change in chroma and value that we haven’t seen before in our beer.

image credit: The Hop Station

You’ve seen these beers – blues, greens, bright yellows that look like thick lemonade, bright to dense oranges, purples, and reds – you get them all now on a draft list. It’s neither good nor bad, it’s just something that brewers have played with and drinkers have taken to. But so much for talking about it, this is a story more easily shown than talked about. Take a look at the following beers and see if you don’t agree that this is a new wave in beer. Will it stick around?

To the left you can see two examples of intensely colored beers, the shockingly yellow beer is the Juice Puns from Burn ‘Em Brewing. This is an east coast IPA with Sabro hop. The beer on the right is the Kim Hibiscus Sour from Singlecut that just hit Indiana as part of the Craftroads Beverage portfolio. The glasses are from The Hop Station, a new craft beer bar in Mishawaka. They’ve got 34 taps and a very eclectic list – I think a trip is order for Walter and I.

The beer to the right is the Glazed Carrot Crockpot from Evil Twin. Being a hazy type makes this beer more dense in color, and in different lights the beers can look a little different. This beer does indeed have carrots, brown sugar and vanilla – and it looks it. There are other orange beers that look equally like a carrot juicer went wild, and they don’t even have carrots in them. Golden oranges are normal in beer, but some have gotten really intense lately.

Since orange is a beer color that people are used to seeing, the question then becomes – does increasing the intensity of the color increase interest or does it dissuade drinkers? The yellows seem to be fine for me, but the deeper oranges are a bit off putting. That being said, I love persimmon beers, and they can be deep orange as well. However, persimmon beers tend to be bright to brilliant – you can read a newspaper through them, so it must be the opacity of the orange hazys and slushies that is slightly repugnant to me.

image credit: 2Toms Brewing

Green beer has been a thing ever since bars figured they could make money off of St. Patrick’s Day, but the green beers of 2018 and later are very different. To the left you see one of the new age green beers, this one from 2Toms Brewing in Fort Wayne. The Tiki Key Lime Sour was just about my favorite beer of early 2019.

Image credit: Mankato Brewing

These green beers aren’t the result of just dropping some blue dye in the fermenter or brite tank (remember that blue dye + yellow beer will give a green product). Most breweries working to get these colors are taking the time to either alter base beer colors so natural products will give the color they want, or do even more to remove color from wort and then add it back with natural products at the end of fermentation.

Bright green, deep orange, and bright red are all new-ish colors for beer. Even the mango intensified yellows are a new version of golden beer. But, now we can move to the darker beers. Purples are coming of age now, even though they have been around for a while. In lots of cases, natural colors used to try and make blue beers turn out purple. Blueberry beers are often purple at decent levels of fruit and if brewers add more fruit to look bluer, they come out almost black. The version on the right is from Mankato Brewing in Minnesota. I like how the head also comes out purple; could make for an interesting mustache.

image credit: Untitled Art

All these new colors are either interesting or frightening, but it’s the blues which are the most shocking new color in beer. Blue is a color not often found in nature without some trick to refract/reflect light, yet the number of blue beers recently has intrigued me. They are interesting to the point that I will be publishing an entire article soon just on the science and methods of blue beer. There are many ways to make a blue beer, and breweries know this, so it’s hard to get them to tell you how they do it.

Of all the new and intense colors, I have to say that it is blue that gives me the most pause. Since it’s not a color you find in food much or in other natural drinks, it is the beer that seems most artificial to me – even though I know it’s not. In the vast majority of cases, the blue color comes from something purely natural and not the result of a chemical reaction that is derived from a chemistry lab. Perhaps it’s because I don’t know what to expect in terms of flavor from a bright blue beer. Most of the blue beers, like the Rocket Popsicle at the left from Untitled Art are built to mimic a visual blue, not a flavor. In this case, it’s the bottom of the bomb pops that we had as kids.

Since you drink or eat with your eyes before your tongue, it seems natural that as science progresses, brewers will take advantage of new technologies to make different colored beers. But the 2018-2019 trend is special because it combines both density and hue, and that has resulted in a bunch of beers that have intense colors we just aren’t used to. The style trends are also influencing the color trends, so then one wonders might be next. OK, maybe I’m thinking about this too much. Enjoy your beer, no matter what the color.


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