Have you picked up a craft beer and noticed that is lists the SRM value on it? Did you find out what it meant or just move on with reading the rest of the label? If I had to guess, you moved right past the SRM to the rest of the label.
Not all bottles and cans list the SRM but when it does, you can normally find it near the ABV and IBU. For years, I ignored the SRM but a while back I did some research to educate myself. What I found is interesting and helps me understand a beer more before I buy it.
Make sure you read to the end where I’ve included a quick reference SRM scale.
What Is SRM?
SRM stands for Standard Reference Method and is defined as measuring the attenuation of light of a particular wavelength in passing through 1 cm of the beer.
If you think that is easy to understand then I highly recommend checking out the rest of the Wikipedia page about it. They have equations, algebra, exponents, fractions and all types of crazy science going on over there.
If you aren’t into a full math and science lesson then keep reading this because SRM is actually really easy to understand even if the process of determining it is complicated.
More or less, SRM tells us the specific color of the beer based on how light passes through it. It’s a consistent method for telling us if the beer is dark, straw, amber or another color.
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Why Isn’t It On Every Label?
Breweries are not required to include the SRM on their packaging so many don’t. For those that do, they are attempting to provide as much information to the consumer as possible. It is also possible that some list is as part of their overall marketing. By providing more stats, their beer can appear more refined or higher quality. Minimally, it leads me to believe they care and know more about their beer than a brewery that doesn’t tell me the SRM. Even if that is not necessarily the truth.
Some breweries go as far as to list the OG (original gravity), FG (final gravity), drinking temperature, preferred glassware and other units of measure. It can be a lot to take in when picking out a beer to buy but don’t be overwhelmed. For me it is all about education, even if we do not know what all of this information means, we can start to be aware that it exists. From there, curiosity will lead us to learn more and become better craft beer drinkers for it.
Who Cares About SRM
To the average beer drinker, the SRM isn’t a big deal. In fact, it is nearly pointless without knowing the scale – more on that later. And even after knowing the scale, we are rarely surprised because most beers of a common style will have nearly the same SRM. We understand ABV and have some idea of what to expect based on an IBU rating. However, the SRM is a number that represents a color. Wouldn’t it be easier to just list the color on the label?
Yes, I think it would be easier to list a color and some breweries do. But color descriptors can be somewhat subjective so the scale lets an actual measurement determine it. For brewers, understanding and tracking the SRM is key because they intend to produce a consistent product. And to be consistent, the color must be the same each time. There are also implications when it comes to beer judging as each style should fall into a certain color range. It is note worthy that some styles can have a very large range. For example, a doppelbock can be anywhere between 6 – 25. However, most styles will have a range of 5 or so on the SRM scale.
So brewers beer judges care about SRM but should you? There’s a good chance that you don’t and I can’t blame you. We make beer buying choices based on style, ABV, IBU, etc so it almost seems irrational to add another factor. Does color change the flavor? No, it doesn’t however, the color is based on the ingredients; most the malt. Therefore, the flavor and color are directly connected.
So even if the SRM isn’t important to you; I would argue that the more we know, the better equipped we are to enjoy beer and share it with other.
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Reading The SRM Scale
Here’s what you need to know about reading the SRM scale:
- It tells you the color of the beer
- The higher the number, the darker the color
- Most scales list 1 – 30 or 40 (most people can’t tell a difference much past 30)
Here is a SRM scale I created to help you understand beer color. Bookmark this page, pin it, or save the image to your phone so you have quick access in the future.
It is noteworthy that this scale is intended to be a quick reference of the range of the colors while providing an example of a beer that could be that color. Almost all styles have a range of acceptable colors. For example, there are golden stouts that have a SRM of less than 10.
In the end, SRM may not matter to you but since it is such a simple scale, I think it is well worth learning. We all appreciate the look of a great beer so understanding the color range will help you better know your craft beer and educate others about it.