People in the beer industry naturally refer to Lovibond degrees when describing the color of malt and use SRM degrees when it comes to the colour of the beer. However, the standard analytical method for malts is the SRM (Standard Reference Method of the American Society of Brewing Chemist or ASBC).
This is the method we use at MaltBroue. We are also beginning to see °ASBC when the SRM degrees method is applied. So I guess we can say that there is a standard method for colour analysis, but they haven’t come up with a standard way to write it!
The difference between °SRM and °L
Is there a difference between the two? Yes, and it can be explained by using this formula:
SRM=1.3546 X Lovibond -0.76
So, if a malt is at 4 Lovibond degrees, it will be at 4.66 SRM degrees. If a malt is at 160° Lovibond, converted in SRM degrees, we are now talking of 216°. That makes quite a difference.
So, it is surprising to see that the term Lovibond is still used, when the standard analytical method (SRM) was adopted by the industry back in 1950.
This may be explained by the fact that when the method was first published, the results whether in Lovibond degrees or in SRM degrees where equal. However, with the improvement of the method and the equipment, we now notice a significant difference between the two. To learn more on the subject, review this article on Wikipedia.
Furthermore, I should point out that the “Lovibond” method was invented in 1885. It was essentially composed of coloured glass discs through which beer or malt colours were compared.
The evolution of the method
At first, the evaluation of the colour with the Lovibond method was really subjective and prone to various interpretations. Why? For numerous reasons in fact:
- People don’t see the colours the same way. Remember the last time you persisted in claiming that a certain object was turquoise while others saw it either blue or green.
- The light through which the colour is compared may not be identical for everybody.
- The glass container in which you pour the wort, depending on its thickness and size, will modify the colour.
Nowadays, the Lovibond method is standardized because the light and the container used to compare the colours are now standardized. Nevertheless, it is still the human eye that makes the final decision.
The American Society of Brewing Chemist (ASBC) recommends the use of the SRM method instead of the Lovibond because this method, with the use of a spectrophotometer, also compensates for the human eye. The assessment of the colour is therefore automated.
So, if you see on the label of your favorite maltster the inscription °L next to the colour, consider it to be more for the tradition than for genuine Lovibond degrees. At MaltBroue, we now inscribe it this way °L/SRM. We also see °L (ASBC).
That way, we respect the tradition and, at the same time give factual information regarding our methods. We determine the colour precisely with a spectrophotometer, as recommended by the ASBC.
A few information about the EBC method
It is natural for European maltsters to use the °EBC method (European Brewery Convention). If you decide to choose a European malt, be careful because the degrees of the EBC method are twice as dark as the degrees of the SRM method.
When choosing a method, the importance is to be consistent because our clients get accustomed to the product. For example, when we sell them a Cara Unic 80, they already have a good idea of what colour they will end up within their beer recipe.
The differences between malt houses
We already know that malt can have different flavors depending on the malt house from which it originates. The land, the equipment and the know-how have an effect on the final product. However, can a caramel malt at 80 °L/°SRM slightly differ from one malt house to another?
Of course it can! According to the lab that made the analysis, the colour can be different. You can also witness differences in the analysis taken in the same lab depending on the day it was made, considering that every lab instrument and method used are controlled by humans.