A guy walks into a bar and asks to try the IPA they currently have on tap. For this example let’s just say it is Harpoon’s (this may or may not be a true story). Bartender pours a taste and the customer begins to comment on the beer.
“This beer is too light in color to be an IPA, and it’s not hoppy enough. Also, it doesn’t seem to be high enough in alcohol content.” Bartender smirks.
“So what would you like?” She asks.
“A Sam Adams lager.” The bartender nods her head and pours the beer. End scene.
This may or may not be a true story, but the point I’m getting to is that these days, a lot of people consider themselves to be beer experts—now that craft beer is becomes mainstream and it’s popularity grows even greater everyday, the average beer drinker at any given bar probably knows what an IPA is. Or at least they think they know.
I’m a big fan of healthy debates and I’m definitely not a “know-it-all,” when it comes to beer. There’s always more we can learn and I don’t consider myself to be an expert yet. Michael Jackson and Garrett Oliver? Maybe. But, definitely not me. At the same time I have worked (and do everyday) to expand my beer knowledge by reading books (like Randy Mosher’s “Tasting Beer” or Charlie Papazian’s “The Homebrewer’s Companion”), becoming a Certified Server through the Cicerone program (the lowest of the 3 tiers although I’d love to become Certified Cicerone or even a Master), and of course, drinking a lot of beer (or as I like to say “expanding my palate”).
So there are two beer-related matters this week that I’ve been pondering about and would like to share MY opinion of. The first one is more of a “myth,” while the second one is a style debate.
#1) Beers light in color tend to be lighter in alcohol content while beers darker in color tend to have a higher ABV. In general.
Someone said this to me the other day. I didn’t really know how to respond. (Yes it was the same guy who “sampled” the Harpoon and ordered a Sam Adams. And I’m the bartender. Hence my idea for this post). This guy has obviously never had a Belgian Tripel before (and that’s perfectly fine—I’m totally not a snob).
As you may know, beer color in the United States is measured by the Standard Reference Method or degrees SRM, the standard determined by the American Society of Brewing Chemists (ASBC). So, your typical American Light Lager is going to be a 1.5 on this scale (pale straw) and your Imperial Stout is going to go above 40 SRM’s (more like 50-80). A “typical” IPA can fall anywhere between 5 and 12 SRM’s aka “deep gold,” to “medium amber.” A typical IPA also falls between 4.5-7.5% ABV, while some American Imperial IPA’s are much higher than this (Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute IPA, for example, is way above that designation). So I guess what I’m trying to say here is, there is no such thing as a “typical IPA.” Unless, maybe, you’re a certified Beer Judge through the BJCP, and you’re judging a homebrew competition based on the best example of that style…but let’s face it, we’re all judges sometimes. That’s why Beer Advocate exists, right? You can’t really judge a beer by it’s color and know what the ABV is going to be based on that alone. A dry Irish stout will be extremely high on the SRM scale (40+) but should be lower in alcohol (4.5-5.0% ABV). And what about Barley Wines or American Strong Ales?! Those mofos can be very misleading. Barley Wines can range anywhere from 11 SRM’s (“pale amber” to “medium amber”) to 21 SRM’s (straight up “brown”). But their ABV’s are always on the high side: 8-12%: Not your typical session beer. You can, however, blind taste a bunch of beers (both ales and lagers) and based on how they appear to you (color-wise), guess what kind of style it may be. But outright determining the ABV?! I’m not sure if that’s probable. Because when it comes to tasting beer, we really need all of our senses, and sight and taste are just two of them. Hearing and touch may not be the most important senses when it comes to beer sampling, but sight, smell and taste are definitely important. And tasting beer involves more than just swallowing it. In conclusion: Can you judge a beer by it’s color? Maybe a little bit—but it’s color won’t really tell you too much about it’s ABV… so, don’t judge a beer by its color! Give it a chance…