Choosing A Beer: Colour Theory

beer colours
beer colours

On the blog we like to take a closer look at our beer and beer making processes, shedding light on topics like barrel-aging, pairing, and recipes, but today we'd like to simplify things, and focus on where it all begins: choosing a beer.

Depending on your familiarity with beer, there are a wealth of different tactics you might use to decide on a perfect pint. In my time observing the patrons of Bellwoods, I can report that the most common approaches tend to be weather, popularity and colour. The first two I will touch upon briefly, but the third -- the all-important issue of colour -- is the one I'd really like to take a minute to talk about.

colour1
colour1

Though I completely understand the first one (you'd have to be crazy not to love a White Picket Fence Belgian Wit or Stay Classy Session Ale on the sunny patio), I'll remind you that all our beers are served at the exact same (chilled) temperature, and I for one, quite enjoy a Lost River Baltic Porter all year round. However, the changing of seasons is a sound enough decision-maker when it comes to beer, so I'll let the the sun-worshippers rest easy for now.

colour2
colour2

The second strategy, often revealed through the (completely understandable) question, "What beer is your most popular?" presents some potential cons. For starters, let us remember that Justin Beiber, not paying your taxes, and kale are really popular. Does it mean that they're unequivocally good? You decide. Suffice to say, popularity can be very loosely related to your personal preference.

Now this last method, the choosing of beer based on colour, is by and large the most common qualifier that people employ in the brewpub and Bottle Shop. I do want to go on the record and say that, you can choose a beer using any decision-making method you please (no judgements here!), but we do want you to drink something you actually like. This is key! The second thing I'd like to go on the record for is this: choosing a beer based on colour will lead you astray! Colour is not usually the determining factor in what a beer tastes like, and if we want to take this thought into metaphor-land, let's just agree that Michael Jackson (ironically I'm talking about the deceased pop star, not the beer expert) knew what was up when he said, "It doesn't matter if you're black or white". The subtext there was obviously "you might still be insanely hoppy". The 'you' here is, of course, referring to a personified beer. Shall we return to reality?

So here's the thing and hopefully this will simplify the issue of beer colour. Malts (the barley portion of beer) are toasted to attain different colours, that can range from very pale, to amber, to black. We use a blend of malts in each brew, and it is the combination of dark and light malts that will produce a final colour. But why does this matter you ask? Well, it matters because many of our beers are similar or almost identical in colour, but taste completely different. For example, Wizard Wolf, Monogamy, Cat Lady, Witchshark, and Roman Candle are all 'amber' -- but their bitterness levels vary from mild to extreme. Hellwoods, Bounty Hunter, No Rest For The Wicked, and Grognard are almost identically black -- and yet one is 3.8% and sessionable, whereas another is 10% and potent. One of them is even sour! In truth, colour doesn't tell you much about the bitterness, body, carbonation, or aromatics of a beer.

So class, today we've learned that colour is not your best friend when it comes to choosing a pint. The next time you roll into a brewpub or bottle shop (ours or otherwise) you'll know that it's what's inside the beer -- the flavours, aromatics, body, and carbonation -- that counts.

Posts to follow soon on flavour, aromatics, mouthfeel, and age!