Tracking Beer Color to Flavor Intensity

Brewing is an art form, and much of it defies categorization. However, a beer's relative "darkness" correlates well (but not perfectly) with the "power" of the overall taste experience.

You head to an upscale pub. You want a beer but requesting a Bud Light or PBR would be horribly déclassé. You glance at the menu but see a bewildering array of styles, flavors, brewers and varieties. What to do?

One of the easiest rules of thumb with beer is that the darker the liquid the heartier the flavor. The very light, pale beers are often refreshing and gentle on the tongue; dark brown beers will usually kick you in the nuts without buying you dinner first.

To reduce your risk of grabbing a disappointing brew, pick your poison based on the beer’s broad color class, or Standard Reference Method. The SRM is a complex mathematical model identifying the rate of light absorption in 1 cm of beer. The alegbra is irrelevant — what matters is that piss-clear beer will rate a 1 on the SRM scale and darkest imperial stout will cap out between 70 and 80.

With the SRM logic in mind, here’s a handy cheat sheet for picking the perfect beer  for you:

  • SRM = 2 … pale lager
  • SRM = 3 … German Pilsener
  • SRM = 10 … pale ale
  • SRM = 17 … dark lager
  • SRM = 29 …porter
  • SRM = 35 … stout
  • SRM = 70 … imperial stout

Beer is complicated. There is no universally agreed-upon list of styles, flavors, variants or the like. Brewing is an art form, and much of it defies categorization. However, a beer’s relative “darkness” correlates well (but not perfectly) with the “power” of the overall taste experience. If you don’t like heavy or rich beers, aim for something lighter.

And you can always as the bartender for a pint of his favorite light or dark beer on tap.

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About jason

Jason is the principal of Gillikin Consulting, a business-media and ethics consultancy based in Grand Rapids, Mich.