We can observe a range of colors in beer, from light and pale gold to rich amber and dark brown, even approaching black. As the color of the beer darkens, it also becomes heavier and more intense in flavor. But what factors actually influence the appearance of beer?
Firstly, it’s important to note that all beers are different, and the craft beer you’re enjoying may have various reasons for its appearance. Is it crystal clear or does it have a hazy appearance? There are many factors to consider, so let’s start with the most obvious observation: Even the lightest beer isn’t completely colorless. The “beer color” is influenced by two chemical reactions—one that binds amino acids to sugars, and another that breaks down sugars. Both of these reactions significantly impact the beer’s color and taste.
ACE Craft Beer Brewing Equipment
Now, let’s explore the main component that influences the color of your beer:
The Almighty Malt
Malt is the primary factor determining your beer’s color. That wasn’t so difficult, was it? Now, you can either stop reading or, if you’re a craft beer lover like us, you probably want to know a few more details.
The color of your beer depends on certain choices made by the brewmaster during the brewing process. These choices ultimately determine the final color of the beer.
In essence, the darker the malts are roasted, the darker the beer will be. This process is known as the Maillard (my-YAR) Reaction, or simply “browning,” and it typically begins by kilning malted barley. During brewing, the brewmaster has control over the kiln temperature, which influences the potential color of the beer. The flavors of bread, biscuits, toast, chocolate, and coffee can all be attributed to the malts. Caramelization can also be employed during the browning process, giving certain beers their signature caramel and roasted qualities.
“Mashing” refers to steeping the ground malted barley in water during the brewing process. This is typically done by raising the temperature to a certain level and allowing it to sit, or by fluctuating the temperature throughout the steeping process. The pH levels of the water during steeping play a role—the higher the pH, the darker the color. Additionally, the longer the mash is in contact with the grains, the deeper the color of the final brew.
After the boiling stage of the beer-making process, the liquid is separated from the mash. This liquid is now known as “wort.” At this point, the wort is usually rapidly cooled in a process called “cold break” before it goes into the fermenter. Cold break also helps remove malt particles packed with color-inducing tannins, resulting in a clearer beer.
While not a major contributor to color, the particles that make it through the cold break and into the fermenter can continue to produce color. Different types of yeasts used during fermentation have also been known to alter the beer’s color.
Last but not least, after fermentation, beer is typically filtered, resulting in a clearer appearance. Some brewmasters, however, choose not to filter or only lightly filter their beers, resulting in a hazy and brighter appearance. Filtration can significantly reduce the beer’s color.