Of all the alcoholic beverages in the world, beer is the most well-known and consumed, second only to water and tea. While there are many different styles of regional beers that fall into various categories, beer connoisseurs consider stout to be one of the most flavorful. When people refer to dark beer, they usually mean stout. The color of stout comes from the brewing process which uses dark malt, giving it a unique flavor and appearance. As beer styles continue to evolve, understanding the sensory aspects of craft beer becomes even more important for appreciating and sharing knowledge and passion for these beverages.
The Origin of Beer Color
Malt is responsible for most of the color in beer. The darker the malt used by the brewer, the darker the beer will be. The color of the malt depends on the temperature and duration at which it is dried, known as kilning. We can compare it to toasting bread – the longer and hotter it is toasted, the darker the color becomes. The same principle applies to malt, with different techniques affecting the final color.
There are other methods to deepen the color of beer. This can be achieved through a longer brewing process, either during the boil or by aging the beer in barrels. The beer takes on some of the color and flavor of the container it is aged in, often a charred cask. Each method and malt variation contributes to different types of stouts, ranging from light and malty to rich and creamy.
Color can have an impact on the taste and experience of beer, but there are exceptions. Dark beers range from coppery to dark brown and exhibit prominent malt flavors such as caramel, roasted nuts, coffee, chocolate, and even raisin.
SRM (Standard Reference Method)
Dark beer is a general term that refers to beer with a dark color. Beer color can be measured using the SRM (Standard Reference Method) in the American standard or EBC (European Brewing Convention) in the European standard, both based on Lovibond color units. According to the color classification shown in the figure below, any beer with an SRM above 22 is considered a dark beer.
Classification of Dark Beers
Schwarzbier: German stouts are dark lagers that may remind you of dunkels. However, Schwarzbier is drier, darker, and more focused on roasted flavors. It has a mild roasted malt flavor without the associated bitterness. The German style is characterized by low alcohol content and a light taste. Generally, it has an ABV (Alcohol by Volume) of about 5%, an IBU (International Bitterness Units) ranging from 22-30, and an SRM of 25-30.
Munich Dunkel: German black lagers are very similar to German stouts in terms of color, ranging from dark copper to dark brown. They combine the typical dark touches of rye malt and Maillard reactions. Munich Dunkels are dark, roasted, fresh-tasting beers with chocolate flavors that aren’t harsh or astringent. They often exhibit toasty, crust-like flavors of chocolate and nuts. The use of “pre-cooked saccharification” in the brewing process characterizes this style, represented by breweries like Paulaner. Generally, they have an ABV of 4.5-5.6%, an IBU of 18-28, and an SRM of 14-23.
Porter: Porters are brown to dark brown or even black beers with a brown foam layer. Although classified as brown ales, most porters are considered dark beers. They are typical English ales with a high malt concentration and a roasted taste, often accompanied by toffee, caramel, and coffee flavors. Generally, porters have an ABV of 5-8%.
Stout: Stouts are an upgraded version of porter beer, featuring a darker color and stronger flavor. They provide more room for experimentation and are currently mainstream in the craft brewing circle. Stout is a strong, dark beer made from roasted malt, hops, water, and yeast. The higher the alcohol content (usually ranging from 6-8%), the more pronounced the taste. Due to their already heavy flavor profile, different ingredients can be added to enhance the taste. Stouts are typically highly concentrated and have a shelf life of over 20 years.
Milk Stout: Also known as Sweet Stout or Cream Stout, milk stout stands out due to the addition of lactose. It is a thick, sweet beer with high energy. It is often described as “liquid bread,” with a creamy and sweet impression.
Irish/Dry Stout: Irish stouts, also known as draught stouts, are characterized by their rich foam, mellow taste, and black color. Using top fermentation, they are dark beers with distinct roasted flavors, often reminiscent of coffee. These medium to full-bodied beers have a creamy character, especially when infused with nitrogen. The bitterness usually ranges from 25-45, and the ABV is around 4-4.5%.
Oatmeal Stout: Oatmeal stouts are very dark, full-bodied, and roasted ales with a malty and oatmeal taste. The sweetness, balance, and oatmeal impression can vary depending on the recipe. Oatmeal is added as a raw material for saccharification, comprising no more than 30% of the malt. This style combines the historical characteristics of oat bitter beers and has become a major feature of the stout family.
Chocolate Stout: This beer is usually made by adding chocolate malt or cocoa powder, resulting in a very strong dark chocolate or coffee taste. If you enjoy coffee, you won’t be disappointed with this beer.
Special Stout: Special stouts feature additional ingredients such as cinnamon and chili, offering a different flavor experience to tantalize your taste buds.
Imperial Stout: Imperial stouts are intense, heavy, and dark ales with a broad palate balance and distinct regional characteristics. Charred roasted malts provide dark fruit or dried fruit flavors, concluding with a warm, bitter-sweet finish. On average, they have an ABV of 8-12% and a bitterness ranging from 50-90. A prominent example is Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout from Cigar City Brewing in the USA.
How Dark Beer is Made
In beer brewing, after the malt is prepared into wort through the mashing process, it is cooled and transferred to a fermentation tank. Beer yeast is then added to initiate fermentation. The color of the beer is influenced by the malt content. In most craft beers, fermentable sugars come from malted and dried barley grains. The additional color and malt flavor come from the roasting process:
- Mild roasts produce straw, gold, and biscuit flavors.
- Medium roasts yield amber and copper tones with caramel and nutty flavors.
- Darker roasts result in browns, light blacks, and flavors reminiscent of chocolate and coffee.
- The heaviest roasts bring forth black and burnt notes.
Yeast fermentation can be carried out at cooler temperatures, known as bottom fermentation, for lager beers. Alternatively, it can take place at higher temperatures in top-fermenting tanks for ales. The use of tightly constructed and reliable fermenters is crucial. ACE Equipment can meet these needs.
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