Writing about beer was something I would never have considered just a couple years ago. Today, it is customary and, in all honesty, a real pleasure for me to write about beer. But something has just encouraged me to publish yet another entry on beer. I recently ran into a website that tries to promote wine drinking (I have never been against it even though I do not write about it) by misinforming their readers on the properties of beer. Not only does that article use a petty and unsupported comparison between wine and beer serving temperatures, it also suggests that cold beer interferes with digestion. In addition, the article categorizes a group of beers as ‘black beer’, a monicker that I had not heard for so many years and that is used by those who are still holding on to the memories of the old Peruvian beer market. Therefore, I shall take the opportunity to try to present to you the wide range of beer colors that are currently available in our country but have existed in the universe for centuries. Perhaps this will help eradicate the local tradition of dividing beers in two groups: blond and black.
In order to begin to understand beer colors, we must remember that the wider the serving glass, the darker the beer will look. I have explained this on a previous entry. It is necessary to bring this up as the classification I list here is based on the descriptions of color values used by the SRM (Standard Reference Method) or the EBC (European Brewers Convention). The SRM values is used by the BJCP to determine if a beer shows the right color for a particular style, while the EBC value is also used in Europe to set out the colors of malted barley or wheat. And keep in mind that blending malts of different colors will result in a paler or darker beer. So, are you ready? Here comes the beer rainbow.
Straw (SRM 2-3/EBC 3,9-5,9): this group includes the industrial lagers by the imported and local big brands (SRM 2-4), as well as Pilseners (SRM 2-5), Berliner Weisse (SRM 2-3) and Weissbier or Weizen from Germany (SRM 2-8), witbier from Belgium (SRM 2-4), and cream ales from the USA (SRM 2,5-5).
Yellow (SRM 3-4/EBC 6-8): here are your Czech pilseners (SRM 3-6), English blonde ales (SRM 3-6), Belgian strong ales (SRM 3-6), American wheat beers and rye beers (SRM 3-6), lambic and gueuze from Belgium (SRM 3-7), Kellerbier (SRM 3-17) and Kölsch from Germany (SRM 3,5-5), Dortmunder Export (SRM 4-6), Belgian blond ale (SRM 4-7), and Belgian tripel (SRM 4,5-7).
Gold (SRM 5-6/EBC 10-12): this is the palest color for white IPAs (SRM 5-8), American pale ales and saison from Belgium (SRM 5-14), Belgian IPAs (SRM 5-15), and English pale ales or bitters (SRM 5-18).
Amber (SRM 6-9/EBC 12-18): this is the starting color for Maibock or helles Bock from Germany (SRM 6-11), rye IPA and double IPA (SRM 6-14), American IPA (SRM 6-15), bière de garde from France (SRM 6-18), Doppelbock (SRM 6-25) and Oktoberfest or Märzen from Germany (SRM 7-14), international amber lager (SRM 7-16), Belgian pale ale (SRM 8-14), English IPA (SRM 8-14), imperial IPA (SRM 8-15), English barleywine (SRM 8-22), Scottish ale (SRM 9-17), and Irish red ale (SRM 9-18).
Deep Amber/Light Copper (SRM 10-14/EBC 20-28): this is the starting point for California common (SRM 10-14), Vienna lager (SRM 10-16), Flanders red ale (SRM 10-16), American amber ale (SRM 10-17), Belgian dubbel (SRM 10-17), American barleywine (SRM 10-19), old ale from England (SRM 10-22), brown IPA (SRM 11-19), Altbier (SRM 11-19) and Rauchbier (SRM 12-22) from Germany, Northern English brown ale (SRM 12-22), Belgian dark strong ale o quadrupel (SRM 12-22), mild ale from England (SRM 12-25), and Weizenbock from Germany (SRM 12-25). It is important to point out that some American amber ales are labeled as ‘red ales’ due to their reddish hue when looked against the light.
Copper (SRM 14-17/EBC 28-34): starting from here, we can rightfully talk about dark beers even though classic glassware makes the former beers look darker than they really are. This group starts with Roggenbier (SRM 14-19), Bock (SRM 14-22) and Dunkelweizen (SRM 14-23) from Germany, strong Scotch ale (SRM 14-25), Münchner dunkel (SRM 14-28), international dark lagers (SRM 14-35), and oude bruin or Flanders brown ale (SRM 15-22).
Deep Copper/Light Brown (SRM 17-18/EBC 34-36): now we are talking about serious stuff. Most of these beers are alcohol-driven and quite flavorful. The color pallet continues with Baltic porters (SRM 17-30), Schwarzbier (SRM 17-30) and Eisbock (SRM 18-30) from Germany, and American brown ale (SRM 18-35). Schwarzbier is the only one to be accurately translated as ‘black beer,’ with a color value over SRM 28.
Brown (SRM 19-22/EBC 37-43): Southern English brown ales (SRM 19-35) and brown porters (SRM 20-30) are the only ones in this color range.
Dark Brown (SRM 22-30/EBC 43-59): robust porters (SRM 22-35), oatmeal stouts (SRM 22-40), dry stouts (SRM 25-40), and black IPAs (SRM 25-40) can be found in this range of the color spectrum.
Very Dark Brown (SRM 30-35/EBC 59-69): this color belongs only to four styles of stout: sweet, foreign extra, American, and Russian imperial, all of them with values within SRM 30-40.
Black (SRM 30+) and Opaque Black (SRM 40+): here are only the darkest versions of the seven beers in the last two colors.
I would like to wrap it up by reminding you that if you wish to correctly assess beer colors, pour the beer in straight-sided shot glass. Finally, I must point out that when I dare write the SRM values of beers, I do it using an approximate number as the real values are very seldom printed on the labels. Ony breweries equipped with a spectrophotometer will be able to truly determine accurate values. The important thing is to learn to appreciate the color of beer in the right glass.