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The Science Of Beer Color

Popular Science’s BeerSci series had another interesting post last month on How Beer Gets Its Color, this time addressing “the two chemical reactions that most influence the malt character and color of your brew.” It’s wonderfully geeky, and goes into the Maillard reaction, named for French chemist Louis Camille Maillard, which is also known as “browning,” and is essentially how “amino acids react with a reducing sugar.” Between that, and caramelization, the various colors in beer are created.

Brewers used to use the Lovibond scale — expressed as “Degrees Lovibond” — when referring to color, but it’s largely been replaced by SRM (Standard Reference Measurement) or the EBC (European Brewing Convention), which is similar but has a different numbering system. Here’s what the SRM range looks like:

For more infomation, check out the terrific Beer Color Laboratories. I keep their wallet size color reference guide in my wallet at all times, and have the larger one in my office. They’re great if you don’t have a spectrophotometer lying around.

Another interesting expression of beer color is coming out of Switzerland. Beertone is essentially a playful spoof on or homage to the Pantone color system used by design professionals. Beertone is taking individual beers and making a beertone card for each, with information about each beer on it. Here’s a sample mock-up of what the cards will look like.

  1. The Beer Color: The concept from Beertone. Each beer has been shot in a special glass, to avoid reflexes and extern influences. The results are amazing.
  2. The Beer Bottle: There’s so many cool Beer Labels that we thought, we must have the bottle on each page.
  3. Alcohol by Volume: The percent alcohol by volume (% alc/vol). It’s a standard measure of how much alcohol (ethanol) is contained in an alcoholic beverage.
  4. Brewery: it’s important to know who produced the Beer. Big and small companies have their places on Beertone.
  5. Beer Name: That’s most important thing to remember when the barkeeper asks what do you wanna drink.
  6. The Color Information: As part from Beertone concept, we present the color references from different color models. With the best values compared to the Beer color.
  7. Brewery Site: If you want to know more about the Beer and its Brewery, here you will have their official site.
  8. Beer Description: Here the Beer enthusiasts will have a description about each Beer. Useful information is always relevant. What a better way to start a good conversation at the bar?

So far, only Swiss beers are available for pre-order — and they’re pretty pricey — with plans for German beers and Brazilian beers to be released later this year.

It certainly seems like a cool idea, if a little unwieldy. I think they should sell them like trading cards and sell packs at bars. But I’d certainly like to see them expanded into the U.S., Great Britain, the Czech Republic, et al., and see what a wider geographic range of beers would look like.

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