Opinion - The Colour of Beer

Many experiments have been done throughout the ages about how the colour of food and drink dictates our perception of it. Think about it: how many children refuse to eat any vegetables because they’re green? How many of us would eat baked beans if they weren’t smothered in an orange sauce? But we’re perversely happy to slurp bright blue Slush Puppies and Panda Pops which are apparently raspberry flavoured? All cola is clear until a big dollop of caramel extract is added to the syrup.

We associate different colours with different beliefs and perceptions. Years ago I worked for a drinks company which produced a world famous stout. The perception amongst lots of people was that because the beer was black (or ruby red as the company preferred it be known) it was high in calories, heavy to drink, and strong. Nothing could be further than the truth. 

It goes without saying that most people choose a beer based on familiarity (the safety of recognition) and colour.

Unfortunately, when I ask most people to describe the colour of a beer, the word that pops up time and time again is ‘brown’. Now I’ve nothing against brown, but let’s face it, brown isn’t a particularly enticing word. It’s a bit sackcloth and ashes.

This is why we had a big debate at Tapsters Towers this year about how we categorise beers. If colour is a major factor in consumers deciding what to drink, let’s bring this to the forefront. There are lots of other ways of categorising styles of beer, but many of these terms are still confusing to novice beer drinkers. What’s the difference between a session best bitter and a premium bitter? What’s the difference between a speciality ale and an old ale? Even the beer experts get themselves tied in knots. This is why we edged towards the terms golden, amber and dark. It’s an easy ‘at a glance’ guide and also helps getting the range and variety right.

Golden ranges from pale straw, to honey, to tawny. Amber beers can be auburn, copper, caramel and ruby coloured. The darks go from milk chocolate to dark treacle and espresso coffee. 

One of the biggest complaints I hear from beer drinkers is that they have walked into an outlet and been faced with 5 cask ales which are all the same colour. It gives the consumer no choice and very little room to experiment. 

Colour is a great leveller and transcends across all drinks categories. If you like white wine, you’ll probably prefer crisp pale golden ales. If you like dark rum, your preference may be a darker, sweeter ale. If you’re a red wine drinker you’ll probably enjoy a beer from the Amber range.

The best cask ale outlets display a small sample of the beers in front of the pumps (in a small shot glass, or even tiny kilner jars) so customers can base their choice on colour. However, many drinkers are pleasantly surprised to have their pre-conceptions about colour blown away by being offered a Try Before You Buy sample.

Opinion - The Colour of Beer

Annabel Smith drinking beer​​​​​​​

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