What Colour is Golden?

Was ‘golden ale’ really invented with Exmoor Gold and Hop Back Summer Lightning in the 1980s?

whitbread_pale_crystalglass

In his book Amber, Gold & Black Martyn Cornell is very careful to point out that there were pale-coloured English beers before then, and some were even marketed as ‘gold’ or ‘golden’, but concludes that it was not until Hop Back Summer Lightning that this really became a distinct ‘style’ with many imitators.

We find that argument convincing and cite it in our book, but this 1974 quotation from early home brewing guru Dave Line (in The Big Book of Brewing) did give us pause for thought:

[The colour of bitter] should shade between a light and dark golden. I am rather bemused that the commercial bitters have been progressively darkened over the last decade as the original gravities have fallen. Seemingly darkening the beer gives the illusion of strength.

But what does he mean by light and dark golden? We ran his 1974 ‘Crystal Bitter’ recipe through some brewing software which suggested a colour of 10 SRM — somewhere between the typical colour of German wheat beer and American pale ale bang on where English bitter ought to be according to this chart from Wikipedia:

SRM chart from Wikipedia.

For comparison, Fuller’s London Pride, which we think of as being a bang-on typical colour for a pint of bitter, comes in at something like 14 SRM.

Summer Lightning, on the other hand, according to most ‘clone recipes’ we can find online, sits at around 4-6 SRM — paler again than Line’s ‘beautiful, golden’ Crystal Bitter.

Perhaps describing colour using simile and metaphor isn’t all that helpful after all.

Bonus hypothesis: We know (keg) bitter got weaker and sweet throughout the 1960s, while mild all but died out. If bitter was also getting darker, was what actually happened that two ‘styles’ collapsed into one? A sort of pre-mixed ‘mild and bitter’?

UPDATE: D’oh! We read the EBC column rather than SRM. Post updated to reflect this howler.

Source: What Colour is Golden?

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