Color and Flavor
In earlier times, many spices flavored beer (and still do today in select beers), but the principal spice of modern beer is hops. It adds a bitterness that counteracts the sweetness in malt and also contributes spicy aromas. The flavor of grapes is naturally more complex than raw grain, so wine is produced without spices. (One exception is vermouth, which is a fortified wine.) Yet, the principal purpose of fermentation and aging in oak barrels is to add flavors from the wood.
Juice from both white and red grapes is essentially clear. The color in red wines comes from the pigment in the grape skins, not the juice. Carefully separating the juice from the skins minimizes color, while leaving the skins in contact with the fermenting juice extracts color. Skins also contain tannins that contribute structure and mouthfeel, especially the astringency common in bold wines like Cabernet.
While there are numerous varieties of barley and growing regions, they hold less importance for the brewer than growing regions and grape varieties do for the winemaker. While it might be common to find a wine label that extols the importance of the grape variety, soil and climate of an area, like the Russian River Valley in California’s Sonoma County, breweries usually don’t go into such exhaustive details. A beer label rarely mentions the origin of its ingredients, other than to indicate that the malt or hops are imported.
Malt is responsible for the color in beer and is a major contributor of flavor. Pale malt receives brief drying in the kiln at low temperatures (80 to 100 degrees C) to minimize color and flavor development. At the other extreme, the roasting of dark malts at high temperatures (200 to 250 degrees C) develops coffee- and chocolate-like flavors. Other variations in kilning produce caramelized sugar and various degrees of color and flavor. The intensity of kilning or roasting and the proportion of dark malt in the mash determine the color of the beer.
Many people mistakenly believe that a dark beer denotes high alcohol content, but don’t be fooled. Alcohol strength has no significant effect on color, perhaps only deepening the hue due to the higher concentration of extract. Even though draft Guinness is an opaque black beer, it’s lower in alcohol and calories than pale-blonde Budweiser!