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When dealing with malt, be it the grain itself or malt extract, color is important. The color of the resulting wort will determine the color of the finished beer. Seeing color is one thing, but being able to describe it is a very difficult thing to do with any level of specificity. What is very dark to you might be slightly dark to me.
It’s because of this that the Lovibond system was put in place. This is a numbering system that ranks different malts in order of light to dark. For example, a pale lager malt would be 1.6L, while a chocolate malt would be 350.
Here is a list of some of the basics:
- Pale lager – 1.6L
- Pale ale – 1.8L
- Vienna – 3L
- Munich (light) – 10L
- Munich (dark) – 20L
- Crystal – 20L-120L*
- Chocolate – 350L
- Black malt – 530L
- Roasted Barley – 530L
*Notice that crystal malt has a range attached to it. This is because crystal malt is produced in a range of colors but is still called crystal across the board.
What Does It Mean?
Now, you might be wondering what this has to do with brewing and beer. Well…everything! Most beers use a variety of malt, sometimes 3 or more varieties. This would be a nightmare to try and determine what the end color would be without something to add up. For this, we use the Lovibond scale and pair it with Homebrew color units, or HCU. Basically HCU is a somewhat crude way to determine the color of your beer.
To determine the color:
- First, multiply the pounds of a specific grain with it’s Lovibond number. Do this for each malt you are using in that brew.
- Next, add all the multiplied numbers up.
- Take the result of step 2 and divide it by the number of gallons of water you are using.
An example for a 5 gallon batch would be:
- 10 lbs of pale ale malt – 1.8L x 10 = 18
- 5 lbs of Chocolate – 350L x 5 = 1750
- 2 lbs of Munich – 20L x 2 = 40
- Added up: 1808
- Divide by 5: 361.6
So, as you can see by the number given, this would be a pretty dark beer, mostly thanks to the chocolate malt.
There you have it. That is how you determine the color of the beer you are brewing. Now, the Lovibond scale isn’t just used for beer, but for a variety of products, including foods, gases, chemicals, and beverages. It was created in the 1860’s by Joseph Lovibond, hence the name.
You might remember the earlier post that mentioned the SRM color scale. This is similar to the Lovibond scale, and is sometimes interchanged, but in home brewing, we generally talk about malt as Lovibond and the finished beer using SRM.
Hopefully this drove home the idea that nothing is left to chance when home brewing. Planning a recipe or changing an existing one is all science. With this, beer becomes a nice blending of art and science.
Until next time,