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May 3, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Beer color is tricky. Dark beers don’t have to be scary, light beers aren’t always an easy drink, and there are a number of factors that affect taste. Vox asked some color questions to beer expert Michael Lewis, the academic director of one of the only brewing programs in the country at the University of California- Davis. What did we discover? Purple beer does exist, and Guinness is lighter than many think.
Beer malts are made like toast, so don’t burn them
Brewers use relatively low temperatures to make pale malts and high temperatures to make colored malts. This process is like making toast: More heat means a darker color and more flavor, but don’t burn it. Darker malts give the beer toasted bread, toffee and caramel notes. More malts also make a thicker beer.
Light-colored beers can pack a big, spicy punch
Don’t be fooled by those pitch-black beers; dark malts add a lot of flavor, but so do hops, which don’t add the dark color to beer. Typically, lighter beers such as pale ales have the spiciest, hoppiest flavor. Also, Budweiser, a pale pilsner, has more calories than Guinness.
Making green beer only takes a couple drops
Because green beer is just a light-colored beer with food coloring, it’s not exclusive to St. Patty’s Day. Kind of anti-climactic, right? With just a little food coloring, you can have red and blue beer on the Fourth of July or creep out your friends by making red beer for Halloween.
Get more lycopene and antioxidants from beer
Throw out the V-8, and start drinking Tomato Bibere, a tomato beer from Japan. Its red tint comes from the addition of tomato juice to the beer, so you can get your lycopene in addition to alcohol. If you’re looking for more antioxidants, Wild Blue Lager, a blueberry beer brewed by Blue Dawg Brewing, is a deep purple alcoholic treat.
Cloudy, with a chance of wheat
Two beers might be the same color, but one might be cloudy. Wheat beers are traditionally unfiltered, so they often contain yeast and a protein and tannin complex that causes the haze. Wheat beers can be filtered and still retain their flavor.
Watch out for a skunked Corona
Dark brown bottles are best for beer. Clear or green bottles, such as those used by Corona and Rolling Rock, do not protect beer from being tainted by UV rays. The bitter compounds from the hops can break down and give the beer a skunky smell and taste. Gross.
Photo quiz answers: From left: 1. Bud Light (Anheuser-Busch), 2. 1839 Pilsner (Boulevard), 3. Scape Goat Pale Ale (Big Sky), 4. Fat Tire Amber Ale (New Belgium) 5. Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale (Founders) 6. Guinness Draught (Guinness)