The coloration of beer, a subject that intrigues both brewers and consumers, is a complex phenomenon that intertwines various scientific principles. The color spectrum of beer ranges from pale straw to deep black, and these hues are not just for visual appeal; they often give clues about the flavor, body, and strength of the beer. For brewers, understanding the science of beer coloration is essential for mastering the art of brewing, as it plays a crucial role in the control and consistency of the final product.

Beer has been a staple in human civilization for thousands of years, with its origins tracing back to ancient times. The color of beer in historical contexts varied greatly, often depending on the available ingredients and brewing techniques of the time. In ancient brewing, the lack of precise control over the malting process often led to inconsistent and varied beer colors. However, as brewing techniques evolved, the control over beer color became more refined, leading to the wide array of beer colors we see today.

The perception of beer color is a result of the interaction between light and the compounds in the beer. When light passes through the beer, it is absorbed and reflected by various compounds, with the observed color being the light that is reflected back. The type of glassware used can also influence the perception of color, as it affects how light interacts with the beer.

The color of beer ranges widely from pale straw to deep black, and the perception of that color is a vital component in the overall sensory experience of beer consumption. Understanding and measuring beer color scientifically has significant implications for brewers and consumers, as it aids in quality control, recipe formulation, and consumer preference understanding. The Standard Reference Method (SRM), European Brewery Convention (EBC), and Lovibond scales are instrumental in providing standardized color measurement, facilitating international communication and comparison among brewers.

Overall. the color of beer is a multifaceted characteristic that is influenced by a variety of factors throughout the brewing process. From the type of malt and its processing to the intricacies of fermentation and aging, each step contributes to the final hue of the beer. Understanding these factors is essential for brewers aiming to achieve consistency and desired characteristics in their products. As the science and technology of brewing continue to advance, the ability to precisely control and innovate in the realm of beer coloration will expand, offering even greater diversity and complexity in this ancient and revered beverage.

The Influence of Different Types of Grains on the Color of Beer

Barley Ears

Barley and Its Dominance

Barley contains a high level of enzymes necessary for converting starches into fermentable sugars during the mashing process, and the Maillard reactions that occur during the roasting process. The color potential of barley is primarily influenced by the malting process. During malting, barley undergoes biochemical changes that develop its color potential. The extent of roasting and kilning of barley malt significantly affects the color of the final beer. Lightly kilned barley yields pale malts, contributing to lighter beer colors, while deeply roasted barley produces dark malts, resulting in darker beers.
Einkorn Wheat

Wheat in Beer Brewing

Wheat is another popular grain used in brewing, particularly in styles like Hefeweizen and Witbier. Wheat malts typically contribute a pale, straw-like color to beer. The proteins in wheat can lead to a hazy appearance, which is characteristic of many wheat beer styles. Unlike barley, wheat has a lower enzyme content, which can affect the mashing process. However, its impact on beer color is generally less pronounced than barley, often resulting in lighter-colored beers.
Rye Growing

The Role of Rye in Beer Color

Rye is used in brewing to add a unique flavor and a distinctively smooth, rich color. Rye malts can range from light to dark, contributing colors from amber to deep brown in the beer. The color of rye beer is often deeper than wheat beers but can vary significantly based on the roasting level of the rye malt. Rye also adds a complex, spicy character to the beer, which is often associated with its darker color variants.
Oats Growing

Oats and Their Contribution

Oats are occasionally used in brewing, particularly in styles like Oatmeal Stout. Oats contribute to a smooth mouthfeel and can add a creamy texture to the beer. In terms of color, oats generally impart a light to medium color range, depending on the processing and the proportion used in the brewing. Oatmeal Stouts, for instance, exhibit a rich, dark color, which is a combination of the oats and the use of dark roasted malts.

Factors Effecting Beer Color

The color of beer primarily originates from the Maillard reaction and caramelization that occurs during malt roasting and, to a lesser extent, during wort boiling. The Maillard reaction involves amino acids and reducing sugars and produces melanoidins, which contribute to the beer’s brown and amber hues. Caramelization, which occurs at higher temperatures than the Maillard reaction, further contributes to color by creating caramel-like compounds.

The depth of color in beer is also influenced by the duration and conditions of the malting process. Darker beers typically use malt that has been roasted longer or at higher temperatures. Additionally, certain styles of beer may include specialty malts, like chocolate or black malt, to achieve deeper colors and specific flavor profiles.

Malt & Maillard Reactions

Understanding the process of beer coloration necessitates an exploration of malt’s role and the Maillard reactions occurring during its processing. Malt, the cornerstone of beer’s flavor and color, is typically derived from barley, although alternative grains such as wheat, rye, and oats are also utilized in various beer styles. The transformation of these grains into malt through the malting process and the subsequent Maillard reactions during drying and roasting are pivotal in defining the beer’s ultimate color.

The Malting Process
Malting begins with the soaking of grains, allowing them to absorb water and begin germination. During germination, enzymes are activated that break down starches into simpler sugars and proteins into amino acids, setting the stage for the Maillard reactions later in the process. Following germination, the grains are dried in a kiln. The conditions of this drying process, especially the temperature and time duration, are crucial in influencing the malt’s color and flavor profile. Generally, lower temperatures and shorter durations result in lighter malts, while higher temperatures and longer durations produce darker malts.

Maillard Reactions in Malt Roasting
The Maillard reactions are a series of complex chemical reactions that occur between amino acids and reducing sugars when exposed to heat. Named after the French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard who first described them in 1912, these reactions are not unique to brewing but are a common occurrence in various cooked foods, contributing to the browning and flavor complexity in bread crusts, roasted coffee, and grilled meats.

In the context of brewing, the Maillard reactions commence during the roasting phase of malt processing. The reducing sugars, like maltose and glucose, react with amino acids, leading to the formation of melanoidins. Melanoidins are high molecular weight compounds that impart color and also contribute to the flavor profile of the beer. They are responsible for the diverse array of beer colors, ranging from the pale golds of Pilsners to the deep, rich browns and blacks of stouts and porters.

The Degree of Roasting and Beer Color
The extent of roasting significantly influences the concentration and type of melanoidins formed, thereby affecting the beer’s color. Lightly roasted malts, used in beers like lagers and pale ales, undergo fewer Maillard reactions, resulting in a lighter color. These malts typically exhibit flavors that are mild, with subtle notes of bread and sweetness. In contrast, heavily roasted malts, which are fundamental in brewing darker beers such as stouts and porters, experience more extensive Maillard reactions. This results in a higher concentration of melanoidins, imparting a darker color and robust flavors often described as chocolatey, coffee-like, or toasty.

Factors Influencing Maillard Reactions
Several factors influence the extent and nature of Maillard reactions in malt. The temperature and duration of roasting are the most significant, but the initial moisture content of the grain and its specific amino acid composition also play crucial roles. Furthermore, the pH of the malt can impact the Maillard reactions, with slightly acidic conditions often accelerating these reactions.

Maillard Reactions

Role of Hops & Adjuncts

The role of hops and adjuncts in influencing beer color, while generally less pronounced than that of malt, is an important aspect of the brewing process. These ingredients can subtly alter the color characteristics of the final product and contribute to the overall flavor profile of the beer.

Influence of Hops on Beer Color
Hops, derived from the Humulus lupulus plant, are primarily used in brewing for their bitterness, aroma, and preservative qualities. The contribution of hops to beer color is typically minimal compared to malt, but it is not negligible, especially in certain beer styles. Beers with a high hop content, such as India Pale Ales (IPAs), can exhibit a slight change in color due to the presence of hops. This color change is often a result of the compounds found in hops, such as polyphenols, which can interact with other ingredients in the beer to affect its hue. However, the impact of hops on color is generally subtle and is overshadowed by the more significant color contributions of the malt.

Role of Adjuncts in Beer Color
Adjuncts are non-malt sources of fermentable sugars used in brewing. Common adjuncts include corn, rice, wheat, rye, oats, and various sugars. The use of adjuncts can influence the color of the beer in different ways, depending on the type of adjunct and how it is processed.

  • Light-colored Adjuncts: Ingredients like corn and rice are often used in lighter beers to dilute the color intensity that would otherwise come from the malt. These adjuncts can lighten the beer, leading to a paler hue. They are commonly used in beers like American lagers, where a light color and mild flavor are desired.

  • Dark-colored Adjuncts: On the other hand, darker adjuncts, such as certain types of caramelized sugars or dark rye, can deepen the color of the beer. These are used in darker beer styles to achieve rich, deep hues and to add complexity to the flavor profile.

  • Specialty Adjuncts: Some adjuncts, like caramel color, are used specifically to adjust the color of the beer. Caramel color is a widely used food coloring made by heat-treating carbohydrates. It can be added to beer to achieve a desired shade without significantly altering the flavor.

Flavor and Color Interplay
While the primary role of hops and adjuncts is often related to flavor and aroma, their impact on beer color, though secondary, is an important consideration in brewing. The interplay between flavor and color is a critical aspect of beer’s sensory profile. Consumers often associate certain colors with specific flavor expectations. For instance, a darker beer might be expected to have a richer, more robust flavor, while a lighter beer might be perceived as crisper and more refreshing. Therefore, the careful selection and use of hops and adjuncts are crucial in crafting a beer that meets both the flavor and color expectations of its intended style.

Fresh hops cones growing

Brewing Processes & its Influence on Color

The brewing process significantly influences the color of beer, with various stages of the process contributing to the final color in distinct ways. The mashing process, pH levels during mashing, and the boiling duration of the wort are key factors in this regard.

Mashing Process and Its Impact on Beer Color
Mashing is the initial stage in brewing where malted grains are soaked in hot water. This process is crucial for extracting fermentable sugars from the grains. The temperature control during mashing is vital, as different temperatures activate various enzymes that break down starches into sugars. The color of the malt, which is determined by the degree of roasting it has undergone, significantly influences the color of the wort and, consequently, the final beer. Darker malts, which have been roasted longer, impart a deeper color to the beer.

Influence of pH Levels During Mashing
The pH level during mashing also plays a critical role in determining the beer’s color. pH is a measure of how acidic or basic a solution is, with lower pH values being more acidic. During mashing, a lower pH level can lead to a lighter-colored beer. This is because the enzymes that break down the malt sugars work most efficiently in a slightly acidic environment, leading to a more complete conversion of the darker, color-contributing grains. Conversely, higher pH levels during mashing can result in darker beers. This is due to less efficient enzymatic activity and the increased extraction of color compounds from the grains.

Boiling Duration of the Wort and Its Effects
After mashing, the wort is boiled, and this stage of the brewing process also affects the color of the beer. The duration of the boil can significantly influence the final color. Longer boiling times can lead to more pronounced Maillard reactions and caramelization. The Maillard reaction is a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned food its distinctive flavor; it also contributes to the darkening of the wort. Caramelization, which is the oxidation of sugar, also intensifies with longer boiling times, contributing further to the darkening of the beer.

Caramelization and Maillard Reactions
Both caramelization and Maillard reactions are heat-induced processes. Caramelization occurs at higher temperatures and results in the formation of complex flavor compounds and darker colors. The Maillard reaction, on the other hand, occurs at a range of temperatures and is responsible for the development of rich flavors and colors in cooked foods, including beer. These reactions are more pronounced in beers with longer boil times, contributing to a deeper color and more complex flavor profile.

Sudhaus Schalttafel

Fermentation, Yeast, & Color Changes

Fermentation is a fundamental process in brewing, where yeast plays a crucial role in converting sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. This process, while primarily known for its impact on the alcohol content and flavor profile of beer, also has implications for the color of the final product. The influence of yeast, fermentation, and subsequent aging and storage conditions on beer color is multifaceted and can be attributed to various biochemical reactions and the production of specific compounds.

Yeast Strains and Color Changes
Different yeast strains have varying metabolic pathways and produce different by-products during fermentation. Some of these by-products can influence the color of the beer. For instance, certain yeast strains may produce higher levels of melanoidins, complex compounds formed during the Maillard reaction (a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned food its distinctive flavor). These melanoidins can contribute to a darker color in the beer. The extent to which yeast affects the color is generally subtle but can be noticeable in certain beer styles or with particular yeast strains.

Fermentation Process and Color Development
During fermentation, several reactions occur that can influence the color of the beer. The Maillard reaction, which is also relevant in the malting process, can continue to a lesser extent during fermentation, especially in higher-temperature fermentations. This reaction can lead to the development of darker hues in the beer.


Aging and Storage Conditions
Post-fermentation processes, including aging and storage, significantly impact the color of beer. Oxidation is a key factor in this regard. When beer is exposed to oxygen, either during the brewing process or as a result of improper storage, oxidative reactions can occur, leading to the formation of compounds that darken the beer. This is particularly evident in barrel-aged beers, where the interaction with oxygen, along with compounds from the wood, can lead to a gradual darkening of the beer over time.

Impact of Oxidation on Color
Oxidation reactions can lead to the formation of aldehydes and ketones, which can react with amino acids, proteins, and other compounds in the beer, contributing to a change in color. These reactions are often associated with stale flavors and are generally undesirable, except in certain beer styles where some level of oxidation is expected and can contribute positively to the flavor and color complexity.

kraeusen Weissbierbock

Physics of Light & Color Perception

The perception of beer color is an intricate interplay between the physics of light and the biochemical composition of the beer. This interaction is fundamental to how color is perceived by the human eye. Understanding this process involves considering the properties of light, the nature of color perception, and the impact of the beer’s composition and serving conditions.

Interaction of Light with Beer Compounds
When light passes through beer, its interaction with the compounds in the beer determines the color that is perceived. Beer contains various compounds, including malt-derived melanoidins, hop polyphenols, and yeast by-products, which can absorb certain wavelengths of light. The specific wavelengths absorbed depend on the chemical structure of these compounds. The wavelengths that are not absorbed are either reflected or transmitted through the beer, and these are the wavelengths that reach the human eye and contribute to the perception of color.

Absorption and Transmission of Light
Different compounds in beer absorb light at different wavelengths. For example, compounds resulting from the Maillard reaction during malting and roasting will absorb shorter wavelengths (blues and greens), reflecting or transmitting longer wavelengths (reds and yellows), which gives the beer a brown or amber color. The specific hue and depth of color in the beer are determined by which wavelengths are absorbed and which are transmitted.

Human Perception of Color
Human color perception is a result of light interacting with the photoreceptor cells in the retina of the eye. These cells are sensitive to different ranges of wavelengths, corresponding to red, green, and blue light. The brain interprets the combined response of these cells to the transmitted light, resulting in the perception of a specific color. In the context of beer, the color perceived is the sum of the light wavelengths transmitted through the beer that stimulate these photoreceptors.

Influence of Glassware
The shape and material of the glassware used to serve beer can also influence color perception. The thickness and clarity of the glass can affect how light is transmitted through the beer. Certain glass shapes can concentrate or disperse light in different ways, subtly altering the appearance of the beer’s color. For instance, a narrow, tall glass might present a beer as darker or more concentrated in color than a wide, shallow glass.

Environmental Lighting Conditions
The ambient light in which the beer is viewed also plays a role in color perception. The color and intensity of the surrounding light can alter how the beer’s color is perceived. For example, under a bright, white light, the beer’s color may appear more vivid, while in dimmer or colored lighting, the perceived color may be significantly different.

Seeing Color

Color Measurement and Standardizations

In the brewing industry, the color of beer is not only a significant aspect of its sensory appeal but also an indicator of its style, flavor profile, and quality. To quantify this attribute, brewers rely on standardized scales such as the Standard Reference Method (SRM), the European Brewery Convention (EBC) scale, and the Lovibond scale. These scales are vital tools in the brewing process, providing a numerical value to the beer’s color based on the absorption of light at specific wavelengths. This standardized approach to color measurement facilitates consistency, quality control, and effective communication within the brewing community.

Importance of Standardized Color Measurement:
Quality Control: Consistent color is a hallmark of product quality, especially for established beer brands and styles. By using standardized color scales, brewers can ensure each batch of beer meets the expected color specifications.

Recipe Formulation and Adjustment: When developing new recipes or adjusting existing ones, understanding the color contributions of various ingredients is crucial. Brewers can use these scales to predict and measure the color of their final product accurately.

Communication: Standardized scales like SRM, EBC, and Lovibond facilitate clear communication about beer color within the brewing industry. This is particularly important in a globalized market where brewers, suppliers, and consumers often span different countries and cultures.

Consumer Perception: The color of beer can influence consumer expectations and preferences. By accurately measuring and describing beer color, brewers can align their products with consumer expectations and market demands.

The Standard Reference Method (SRM)

The Standard Reference Method (SRM) is a system used predominantly in North America to quantify the color of beer. This method provides a numerical value that corresponds to the color of the beer, ranging from pale straw hues to deep black tones. The SRM scale is an essential tool in the brewing industry, as it offers a standardized way to describe and control the color of beer, which is a significant aspect of its overall character and appeal.

The SRM value is determined by measuring the absorbance of light at a specific wavelength (430 nanometers) as it passes through a sample of beer. The measurement is typically conducted in a laboratory setting using a spectrophotometer, an instrument that measures the intensity of light. The beer sample is placed in a cuvette, a small, transparent container, and the spectrophotometer measures how much light is absorbed by the beer. The more light absorbed, the darker the beer.

The absorbance value obtained is then converted into an SRM value using a formula. This formula is based on the principle that as the concentration of colored substances in the beer increases, the absorbance of light also increases, resulting in a higher SRM value. The SRM scale starts at 1, which represents the lightest beers, such as pale lagers, and can go up to 40 or higher for extremely dark beers like stouts and porters.
It’s important to note that the SRM system measures only the color of the beer, not its clarity or opacity. The color can be influenced by various factors, including the type and amount of malt used, the brewing process, and any additional coloring agents.

SRM Color Scale

The European Brewery Convention (EBC)

The European Brewery Convention (EBC) color scale is a numerical scale used to quantify the color of beer, particularly in Europe. The EBC method of measuring beer color involves a spectrophotometric analysis. In this process, a beer sample is illuminated with light, and the absorbance of the beer is measured at a specific wavelength (430 nm, which corresponds to the blue region of the visible spectrum). The absorbance value is then compared to a reference standard, and the color is quantified in EBC units. The higher the EBC number, the darker the beer. This method provides a more objective and precise measurement compared to subjective visual assessments.

To perform an EBC test, a beer sample is diluted with distilled water, and the absorbance of light at 430 nm is measured. The EBC value is then calculated based on this absorbance, with specific formulas and dilution factors applied to ensure accuracy. This method provides a more objective and precise measurement of beer color compared to subjective methods like visual comparison.

The EBC scale ranges from pale lagers at the lower end (around 8 EBC) to dark stouts and porters at the higher end (over 800 EBC). This scale helps brewers to categorize their beers based on color and allows consumers to have an expectation of the beer’s appearance before purchase.

In comparison to other color scales like the SRM used in the US, the EBC scale is generally higher in numerical value for a given color. This difference is due to the distinct calibration standards and measurement methods used by each system.

EBC Color Scale

Degrees Lovibond (°L)

Degrees Lovibond, often abbreviated as °L, is a scale used to measure the color of beer and malt. This scale, named after its creator, English brewer Joseph Williams Lovibond, (see below) was developed in the late 19th century and has since become a fundamental aspect of brewing science. Understanding the Lovibond scale is crucial for brewers, as it directly influences the aesthetic appeal and perceived flavor of beer.

The Lovibond scale measures the color of beer and malt by comparing them to colored glass slides. Originally, this was done using a device called a tintometer, which Lovibond invented. The tintometer contained a series of glass slides, each with a different color intensity. The beer or malt sample was placed in a clear container, and its color was matched against the colored slides under a standard light source. The color of the sample was then expressed in degrees Lovibond, corresponding to the color of the slide that most closely matched the sample.

In modern brewing, the Lovibond scale is still used, although the method of measurement has evolved with technology. Today, spectrophotometers are commonly used for color measurement. These instruments pass light through a beer sample and measure the intensity of light at different wavelengths. The data obtained is then used to calculate the color in degrees Lovibond.

The Lovibond scale ranges from pale yellows (around 2°L) to deep blacks (over 500°L). Pale lagers and pilsners typically fall in the lower end of the scale, while stouts and porters are at the higher end.

Lovibond Scale Chart

Malt Color Units (MCU)

Malt Color Units (MCU) provide a quantitative measure of the color of beer, an essential aspect of its overall character and appeal. The color of beer is not merely a cosmetic attribute; it is a gateway to understanding the beer’s flavor profile, brewing process, and the types of malt used. The MCU system is a crucial tool in the brewing industry, allowing brewers to predict and control the color of their beer with precision.
The concept of measuring beer color originated from the need to standardize and quantify the visual aspect of beer. Historically, the color of beer was a direct indicator of the types of malt used and the brewing process. Darker beers often indicated the use of roasted malts or longer boiling times, while lighter beers suggested the use of paler malts and shorter boiling periods. As the brewing industry evolved, the need for a more precise and scientific method of measuring beer color became apparent.
MCU is calculated by considering the color of each malt used in the brewing process. The color of malt, in turn, is determined by the degree of kilning or roasting it has undergone. Darker malts, having been kilned or roasted for longer periods, contribute more color to the beer. The calculation of MCU is relatively straightforward: it involves multiplying the color rating of each malt (measured in degrees Lovibond) by the weight of the malt used, and then dividing this total by the volume of the beer (in gallons). The formula is expressed as: MCU = ((Grain Weight Pounds * Grain Color Lovibond) / Volume Gallons of beer)
The MCU system, by incorporating the Lovibond scale, allows brewers to anticipate the color outcome of their beer based on the malts they choose.

Briess Malt Color Infographic

Measurement Instrumentation

Historically, the assessment of beer color was largely subjective, relying heavily on the brewer’s experience and visual comparison. Brewers would often compare the color of their brews to known standards or against the backdrop of common items or natural elements. While this method had its merits in terms of simplicity, it lacked precision and reproducibility. As brewing evolved from an artisanal craft into a scientifically driven industry, especially with the rise of large-scale commercial breweries, the need for more objective and reproducible methods of color measurement became increasingly evident.

The shift from subjective assessment to objective measurement in beer color was driven by the brewing industry’s growing demand for consistency, quality control, and standardization. With the development of modern brewing science, it became clear that precise control and replication of beer color were crucial factors in maintaining brand consistency and meeting consumer expectations. This led to the development and adoption of standardized color measurement methods.

Tristimulus Colorimeter

Color perception is a complex phenomenon, with the human eye capable of discerning up to 10 million different shades. In industries where color is a critical quality attribute, accurately measuring and replicating colors as perceived by the human eye is essential. The tristimulus colorimeter is designed to mimic the human eye-brain sensitivity to color, offering a sophisticated means of color measurement.

Tristimulus colorimetry is based on the principle of color perception in the human eye. The eye perceives color through the response of three types of photoreceptor cells, each sensitive to different wavelengths of light (red, green, and blue). The tristimulus colorimeter emulates this process using three specialized glass color filters and light detectors to measure the intensity of these primary colors in a sample.

The tristimulus colorimeter measures the color of a sample by comparing it against the three primary colors—red, green, and blue. The measurements are expressed as tristimulus values X, Y, and Z, which correspond to these primary colors. However, for a more standardized representation, these values are often normalized to equivalent Commission Internationale de l’Eclairage (CIE) values and designated as R, G, and B. This normalization allows for a more universal interpretation and comparison of color measurements.

The tristimulus colorimeter is capable of viewing large areas of a sample, up to 6 inches in diameter, and obtaining an optical average of relatively large samples. This capability is particularly useful for heterogeneous samples where color uniformity is not consistent across the sample. By averaging the color over a larger area, the tristimulus colorimeter provides a more representative color measurement.

In the brewing industry, color is an important quality parameter, indicative of the type of beer and its flavor profile. However, the use of tristimulus colorimetry is not common in brewing. This is partly due to the specific requirements of beer color measurement, which often necessitates the analysis of smaller, more uniform samples, and the industry’s preference for spectrophotometric methods like the SRM (Standard Reference Method) and EBC (European Brewery Convention) scales. These methods are generally considered sufficient for the level of precision required in beer color analysis.

The primary advantage of the tristimulus colorimeter is its ability to closely replicate human color perception, quantifying all shades detectable by the human eye. This makes it an invaluable tool in industries where matching color to human perception is crucial, such as in the textile or paint industries.

Despite its advanced capabilities, the tristimulus colorimeter has limitations in the context of brewing. Its large sample area measurement may not be necessary or practical for beer, where color uniformity is typically high. Additionally, the cost and complexity of tristimulus colorimeters compared to more conventional spectrophotometric methods may not justify their use in standard brewing operations.

X-Rite 918 Tristimulus Reflection Colorimeter

Colorimetric Spectrophotometer

The distinction between a tristimulus colorimeter and a colorimetric spectrophotometer is significant, particularly in the context of precision and application in measuring the color of various substances, including those relevant to the brewing industry.

Unlike the tristimulus colorimeter, which uses three color filters to approximate the human eye’s response to color, the colorimetric spectrophotometer measures the entire visible spectrum, providing a more comprehensive analysis of color.

A colorimetric spectrophotometer operates by measuring the full spectrum of visible light (approximately 380 to 700 nanometers) reflected from a sample. This comprehensive measurement captures a detailed color profile of the sample. The device then utilizes mathematical models that represent the human eye’s sensitivity to color (standard observer functions) and the color output of different light sources (illuminant functions) to calculate the precise color of the sample.

The primary advantage of the colorimetric spectrophotometer is its precision. By measuring the entire visible spectrum, it provides a more detailed and accurate color analysis than the tristimulus colorimeter, which relies on an approximation of color perception. Additionally, colorimetric spectrophotometers are generally more cost-effective than both monochromatic and tristimulus colorimeters, making them an attractive option for many applications.

The colorimetric spectrophotometer is particularly well-suited for measuring the color of fine-grained substances such as rice, flour, wheat, corn, barley, starch, and fine breakfast cereals. Its precision is beneficial in these applications, where subtle differences in color can indicate variations in quality, processing, or type. Furthermore, some colorimetric spectrophotometers are capable of measuring transmitted color, making them suitable for analyzing clear or translucent liquids like corn syrup and grain alcohol. This versatility is particularly valuable in the food and beverage industry, where both solid and liquid products require accurate color measurement.

While colorimetric spectrophotometers offer several advantages, they do have limitations. One such limitation is the size of the area they can measure. They are not as effective for measuring color over large or uneven surfaces as the tristimulus colorimeter. This limitation makes them less suitable for certain applications where a broader area of color measurement is necessary.

Lovibond® PFXi-195 Series Spectrophotometric Colorimeter
Lovibond® PFXi-195 Series Spectrophotometric Colorimeter

Monochromatic Colorimeter

The monochromatic colorimeter, while a useful tool in certain applications, has distinct limitations due to its method of color measurement and application limitations, particularly in the context of measuring the color of grain flakes, and its advantages in specific scenarios.

The monochromatic colorimeter represents a specific type of color measurement device that, unlike more sophisticated colorimeters, measures light reflectance in a narrow area of the color spectrum. This unique approach to color measurement presents both advantages and limitations.

A monochromatic colorimeter measures the intensity of light reflected from a sample within a narrow wavelength band. It operates by using filters that isolate specific color wavelengths, typically red, green, blue, or yellow. The device measures the amount of light reflected in these narrow bands, providing data on the intensity of the specific color it is set to detect.

The primary limitation of the monochromatic colorimeter is its inability to perceive the full spectrum of color as the human eye does. It is, in a sense, “colorblind,” only able to detect the intensity of the specific wavelength it is set to measure. This limitation can lead to erroneous results when used to measure colors that are complex mixtures of different wavelengths.

In the context of measuring the color of grain flakes, such as corn, oat, or wheat flakes, the monochromatic colorimeter can be useful for determining lightness to darkness within a specific color band. For example, using a green filter to measure the “brownness” of grain flakes can provide data on the intensity of the green component, which correlates to the lightness or darkness of the brown color.

However, this method can yield misleading results when dealing with colors that have multiple components. For instance, if there are two batches of grain flakes, one light brown and the other darker but with a green cast, the monochromatic colorimeter could indicate that they are the same color. This is because it only measures the intensity of the green component, not the full color spectrum that contributes to the perceived “brownness.”

Despite its limitations in color perception, the monochromatic colorimeter has advantages in certain applications. It can view a large area, up to 6 inches in diameter, allowing for a good optical average of relatively large and coarse samples. This capability is particularly beneficial for measuring the color of bulk grain samples, where a general assessment of color intensity is needed.

Briess Malt Color Infographic

Visual Comparison Systems (Tintometer/Comparators)

The use of standard, calibrated, tinted glass discs for color assessment represents a more traditional approach in the field of colorimetry, particularly in the brewing industry. This method, exemplified by instruments such as the Lovibond Comparator and the Hellige Neo-Comparator, relies on visual comparison between a beer sample and a set of standardized color discs. This essay explores the methodology, application, and considerations involved in this approach to color measurement in beer.

Color assessment is a critical aspect of quality control in brewing, as it affects consumer perception and product consistency. The use of tinted glass discs for color comparison offers a straightforward, albeit less technologically advanced, method for determining the color of beer. This method relies heavily on human visual perception, aided by calibrated color standards.

The process involves placing a beer sample in a cuvette, a transparent container designed for holding liquid samples in optical measurements. The cuvette’s size can be varied to adjust the intensity of the beer’s color, effectively making the sample “lighter” or “darker” for easier comparison. A color disc, which contains small circles of colored glass calibrated to specific color standards, is then selected to match the expected range of the beer sample’s color.

The Lovibond Comparator and the Hellige Neo-Comparator are the two main instruments used in this method. These comparators are designed to hold both the color disc and the cuvette in a way that they share the same background illumination, facilitating an accurate visual comparison.

The color disc is placed in the comparator, and the cuvette containing the beer sample is placed in the designated slot. The observer then looks through the viewfinder and rotates the disc until one of the colored glass circles matches the color of the beer sample. The color of the beer is then read from the scale on the disc comparator.

In all color determinations using this method, it is crucial to prepare the beer sample adequately. The beer must be de-gassed and filtered to remove any haze, turbidity, or gas bubbles, as these can significantly affect the accuracy of the color measurement. The presence of such impurities can alter the perceived color of the sample, leading to inaccurate readings.

The primary advantage of this method is its simplicity and the minimal requirement for sophisticated equipment. It provides a quick and relatively easy way to assess beer color, making it suitable for smaller breweries or situations where rapid, on-site color assessment is needed. However, the method’s reliance on human visual perception introduces a degree of subjectivity, and the accuracy can be influenced by the observer’s color discrimination ability. Additionally, this method may not provide the level of precision and repeatability offered by more advanced colorimetric instruments.


In conclusion, the use of standard, calibrated, tinted glass discs for color assessment in beer, as employed in instruments like the Lovibond Comparator and the Hellige Neo-Comparator, offers a practical and straightforward approach to determining beer color. While it lacks the technological sophistication and objectivity of spectrophotometric methods, it remains a useful tool, particularly in settings where simplicity and speed are prioritized. The success of this method, however, is contingent upon proper sample preparation and the skill of the observer in making accurate visual comparisons. 

Lovibond® Comparator 3000
Lovibond® Comparator 3000

Joseph Williams Lovibond

Developer of the world's first practical colorimeter

Joseph Williams Lovibond, born in 1833, was a significant figure in the brewing industry, particularly known for his pioneering work in the field of colorimetry, which profoundly impacted the brewing process. His contributions are still recognized and utilized in the brewing industry today.

Lovibond’s journey into the world of brewing began with his family’s business. He was the son of a brewer and inherited the family brewery, the Pilsner Urquell Brewery, in Greenwich, England. This background in brewing provided him with a deep understanding of the processes and challenges involved in producing consistent, high-quality beer.

One of the key challenges in brewing during Lovibond’s time was the lack of a reliable method to measure and control the color of beer. The color of beer is not only an aesthetic attribute but also an indicator of the type of beer, its flavor, and quality. Before Lovibond’s invention, brewers relied on subjective visual assessment to judge the color of their brews, which was inconsistent and unreliable.

Recognizing the need for a more precise and objective method, Lovibond developed the Tintometer in 1885. This groundbreaking invention allowed for the accurate measurement of color in liquids, including beer. The Tintometer worked by comparing the color of the liquid to a set of standard colored glass slides. This comparison provided a numerical value to the color, which could be used to ensure consistency in brewing processes.

Lovibond’s Tintometer was revolutionary for several reasons. Firstly, it introduced a standard method for measuring color, which was critical for quality control in brewing. Consistency is a key aspect of commercial brewing, and the ability to accurately measure and replicate the color of beer batch after batch was a significant advancement.

Secondly, the Tintometer had applications beyond brewing. It was also used in the sugar refining, oil, and food industries, demonstrating the versatility and importance of Lovibond’s invention. However, its impact was most profoundly felt in the brewing industry, where it became an essential tool for brewers worldwide.

Moreover, Lovibond’s work in colorimetry extended beyond the Tintometer. He developed a color scale, known as the Lovibond scale, which is still in use today. This scale provides a standardized way to describe colors in terms of hue, lightness, and saturation. In the context of brewing, it allows for precise specification and replication of the color of different types of beer, from pale lagers to dark stouts.

Lovibond’s contributions to brewing were not limited to his inventions. He was also involved in various aspects of the industry, including brewing techniques and quality control. His work helped to elevate the scientific understanding of brewing, moving it from an art form based largely on trial and error to a more precise and controlled process.

In recognition of his contributions, Lovibond was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, a prestigious honor that acknowledged his significant scientific achievements. His work laid the foundation for modern brewing technology and quality control, and his inventions continue to influence the brewing industry.

Joseph Williams Lovibond was a visionary in the field of brewing. His development of the Tintometer and the Lovibond color scale revolutionized how brewers measured and controlled the color of beer, contributing significantly to the standardization and consistency of the brewing process. His legacy endures in the brewing industry, where his inventions remain in use, ensuring that the quality and character of beer are maintained to the highest standards. Lovibond’s work exemplifies the intersection of science and industry, demonstrating how innovative thinking and technological advancement can drive an entire industry forward.

Joseph Williams Lovibond
Joseph Williams Lovibond

Lovibond’s Published Studies on Color

Joseph Williams Lovibond, a prominent figure in the scientific study of color, made significant contributions to the field through his research and publications. His work, spanning the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was pivotal in advancing the understanding of color perception and measurement.

In his first publication, “Measurement of Light and Colour Sensations” (1893), Lovibond laid the groundwork for a systematic approach to color measurement. Prior to this, color was largely a subjective experience, with no standardized method for quantification. Lovibond’s work in this area was revolutionary, as he sought to create a framework for objectively measuring color sensations. He introduced the concept of comparing color sensations to a known standard, which was a significant departure from the then-prevalent qualitative descriptions of color. This publication marked a turning point in the scientific community’s approach to color, moving from a subjective to a more objective, measurable understanding.

In 1905, Lovibond further expanded on these ideas in “An Introduction to the Study of Colour Phenomena.” This work delved deeper into the nature of color perception, exploring the physiological and psychological aspects of how humans perceive color. Lovibond discussed the role of the human eye and brain in interpreting color, emphasizing the importance of understanding the human element in color measurement. This publication also explored the relationship between light, the medium through which color is perceived, and color itself. By doing so, Lovibond bridged the gap between the physical properties of light and the subjective experience of color, an area that had not been extensively explored before.

Lovibond’s third major publication, “Light and Colour Theories and Their Relation to Light and Colour Standardization” (1921), represented the culmination of his life’s work in color science. In this comprehensive treatise, he synthesized his earlier findings with contemporary research in the field. The focus of this work was on the standardization of color measurement, a topic of growing importance in the industrial age. Lovibond argued for the necessity of a universal system of color measurement, one that could be applied across different industries and disciplines. This publication not only highlighted the practical applications of color measurement but also underscored the importance of a unified theoretical framework in understanding color phenomena.

Towards the end of his life, Lovibond’s interest in the practical applications of color science led him to conduct investigations into color camouflage for the British War Office. This work was particularly relevant during World War I, where camouflage became a crucial aspect of military strategy. Lovibond applied his extensive knowledge of color perception to develop camouflage patterns that could effectively conceal military equipment and personnel. His work in this area demonstrated the practical implications of color science in matters of national security and defense.

Joseph Williams Lovibond’s contributions to the field of color science were groundbreaking and far-reaching. His publications laid the foundation for the objective study and measurement of color, a field that has significant implications across various scientific and industrial domains. From establishing a framework for color measurement to exploring the physiological and psychological aspects of color perception, and finally to applying this knowledge in practical contexts such as military camouflage, Lovibond’s work has had a lasting impact on our understanding and application of color science. His legacy endures in the continued development and application of color measurement standards and technologies.

Lovibond Tintometer
Lovibond Tintometer

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *