In the beer world, there are a couple of myths that are circulated so frequently that you may have begun believing them. They have become a part of beer marketing even. But they are not founded in fact, just appearances, so it’ll be easy to disprove them here. Once you understand the “beer science” behind them, you will be able to educate others. Then I won’t have to groan when I hear slanderous things about the dark-colored beers I love so dearly.
To start from the beginning, don’t forget, beer is made up of 4 components:
What you taste, smell, and see in a beer is created by those four elements (unless of course someone has used adjuncts, fruit, spices, etc. in their recipe).
Now, let’s get to the myths:
Light-colored beers are lower in alcohol
Point A: Color is directly related to malt content.
Point B: Yeast metabolizes sugars that it extracts from your malt content, which produces alcohol (and Co2).
So, whether your beer calls for a dark malt or a very pale one, the yeast will metabolize sugar and produce alcohol. The color has no bearing on that process.
Most large commercial “light” or “session” (as in low ABV) beers do tend to be light in color as well, but this is not the rule of all lower ABV beers. Think about it – there are MANY nearly black porters and stouts that are only 4-5% ABV.
Light-colored beers are lower in calories
Point A: The calories in beer come from 1) the alcohol content (the higher the alcohol by volume, the higher the calories) and 2) the residual carbohydrates.
Point B: The color of your malt does not affect your alcohol content (as explained with myth 1) and the color alone does not account for residual carbohydrates in the finished beer.
Black lagers (schwarzbiers), porters, and drier stouts do not actually have remarkably high calories in comparison to pale beers.
Light-colored beers are lighter in body
Body is a bit more complex. The body of a beer can be attributed to the yeast strain, the use of unfermentable sugars or proteins, adjuncts etc.
While some dark and roasted malts can have a high proportion of unfermentable sugars, body and color are not directly related. In fact, this myth shocks me most of all because I personally have had many a paler beer with serious body to it.
Ales are darker than lagers
Point A: The distinctions “ale” and “lager” have to do with one thing alone – the yeast. When the yeast stays at the top and ferments at higher temperatures, it creates an ale. When the yeast doesn’t float at the top and ferments at a lower temperature, it creates a lager.
Point B: Yeast is not malt, and therefore has nothing to do with the beer’s color.
Once again, commercial examples dominate, and so when folks see the word “lager” they immediately picture that pale, glowing, golden brew in their mind and assume lagers are the fairest of the beers.
Think of those amber-colored Oktoberfest lagers we all enjoy in the fall, or dunkels, or schwarzbier, or bocks! Those are all lagers and they aren’t pale at all. On the other side of the spectrum, ales can certainly be dark (stouts & porters) or light (pale ale, anyone?).