Beer Color Analysis: Setting the Standards for Quality Using Spectrophotometric Technology

Well, its official. My husband has finally jumped on the home-brewing bandwagon of beer makers. Along with a handful of other middle-aged friends, he has invested in the proper equipment, reorganized the garage, and attended all of the classes that teach about various brewing methods, beer taste, and beer color. You may wonder what beer color has to do with brewing methods and taste. Surprisingly, beer color analysis is a very important process that is used to monitor the beverage in order to develop the ideal taste, texture, and appearance. Professional beer manufacturers understand the importance of beer color and rely on spectrophotometric technology to maintain quality and consistency in their products, and many craft brewers are beginning to see the value of color measurement at well.

sampler beer color
Beer comes in a variety of colors and flavors. Continuous color monitoring throughout the brewing process guarantees better results in order to meet outcome expectations.
Image Source: Flickr user manguzmo

Beer color measurements

When it comes to beer choices, the options are endless. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we pride ourselves on pioneering the latest trends in micro-brews, but for a product to really go mainstream, consumers’ expectations are set on consistency in both color and flavor for repeat buying power. Beer color perception is one of the first factors many buyers consider when evaluating food and beverage choices. Not only is beer color an important element in consumer choice. Color analysis can be used throughout the brewing process to maintain product quality and consistency, yet it is often undervalued in the brewing world. Beer color analysis is an important element in both marketing and production, and requires advanced technology for proper monitoring.

The color measurement system for assessing and quantifying beer color was established in the 1940s and early 1950s, and is commonly referred to as the Standard Reference Method (SRM). Although this method is primarily used to indicate finished beer color, the American Society of Brewing Chemist (ASBC) use various forms of beer color analysis based on this method to closely monitor processing and changes. Large beer corporations have very stringent guidelines for beer color and consistency, and rely on spectrophotometric technology to closely monitor finished products for consistency. “The allowable variation is in many cases <0.1 °SRM” (morebeer.com). Although caramel color additives have been used for color stability in the past, new methods depend on color prediction and monitoring through the use of advanced spectrophotometry to achieve desired results.

light to dark beer color
Beer color ranges from light to dark, and brewers depend on color measurement throughout process and development to help predict and monitor color outcomes.
Image Source: Flickr user Michelle Tribe

Although beer color measurement has often taken a backseat in the past, with a much more diverse market of craft brewers emerging a new emphasis has been put on color monitoring. Brewers are beginning to see how color measurement plays a valuable role in the control of beer color and can be a valuable assessment tool for quality control.

The role of color measurement in processing

When evaluating beer color, both the beer and the wort are examined for color variations. The base of all beer is water, and purity is valued for quality results. Spectrophotometers measure APHA (American Public Health Association) color to determine water quality for safety and consistency. From that point, a variety of factors can influence changes, and beer colors can range from light to dark with variations of amber and red hues in between. Originally, brewers relied on a visual comparison method for monitoring changes in beer and wort color, but human perception limitations made consistent results nearly impossible. Today, spectrophotometers provide objective and quantifiable results to ensure color stability throughout the various processes of sampling and grading, germination, and chemical analysis.

hops beer color
Color measurement can be applied to the various stages of brewing and is used to monitor both malts and hops for consistency and color outcomes.
Image Source: Flickr user David Blaikie

Tools for beer color analysis

Spectrophotometers today use advanced technology to accurately measure and quantify beer color. HunterLab is a leader in color measurement instrumentation and offers a variety of products to meet various industry needs. From portable to bench-top models, HunterLab has a solution to meet every need and every budget. As the beer industry expands, the potential for growth is limitless. With the right tools and support, craft brewers can develop quality products with return consumer buying power. HunterLab prides itself on supporting our clients throughout the color measurement process and we are here to answer all your beer color analysis questions. Contact HunterLab today to learn more about our commitment to color and quality.

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