Food Science

These Ingredients Determine the Color of Your Beer

April 24, 2017

The beer color spectrum is much larger than you might think: Some are black as night while others are pale as the moon and almost translucent. Like aromas, beer colors vary wildly, appearing pale golden but also amber, ruby, garnet, and brown, all the way to charcoal black. Why such variation, and what accounts for a beer’s color anyway?

It's like ROY G BIV up in here! Photo by Mark Weinberg

If someone tries to argue that a beer is dyed or stained with food coloring, you can tell them this: In general, unless a fruit, herb, or other natural coloring agent is used, malted grain is almost exclusively how beer gets its color. Light beers like pilsners and pale ales use barely and toasted, straw-colored base grains, while darker beers like brown ales, stouts, and porters use more heavily-roasted malt. (Note that a beer’s color doesn’t necessarily indicate how strong the beer is—some of the strongest beers in the world are light in color while dark beers like Irish dry stouts and schwarzbier are light and refreshing.)

As I mentioned before, additives like fruits, flowers, herbs, and juices can change a beer’s color. For example, flowers like dried hibiscus or jamaica (another type of hibiscus) imbue beer with a bright magenta hue, while citrus juices like blood orange and ruby red grapefruit add a less vibrant, but equally attractive coloration. Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and—to a lesser extent—peaches and other stone fruits add their own color impressions to beer, as do dragon fruit and passion fruit, which produce some of the loveliest-colored beers in the world.

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