Ever had a beer that was too bitter or sour? If so, you might’ve wished there was a way to have know before you drank it. However, there actually is through the IBU, or International Bitterness Scale. This scale can clue you in on how bitter a beer might be…
IBU: What’s Your Sweet Spot?
In order to understand why the IBU is a thing, it helps to realize why beers can be bitter. It mainly comes down how brewers use hopsduring the brewing process. Hops are an important part of making beer, as they bring in a lot of the flavor profiles we’re familiar with.
However, hops also have alpha acids in them. These varying levels of acids impact the overall bitterness of a beer. For instance, brews which use hops with low levels of alpha acids turn out much lighter than those which use very acidic hops, which tend to be more sour.
A means of quality control
Due to how many different types of beers use different hops, commercial brewers created the IBU as way to perform quality control. Using this system, they can keep a consistent flavor for each batch of beer. By tracking a chemical which the hops create as they heat up, the brewers can see just how bitter their beer will be.
Plus, the nice thing is the scale is pretty easy to read. Beers with less than 20 IBUs have little to no bitterness. The 20-40 range tends to be the most common range for beers, and has a mild bitterness. Those in the 40+ range tends to be pretty bitter in flavor.
How it helps you
The IBU system helps you quickly get an idea if a beer is going to be too bitter for your tastes or not. Many craft beers will even have their IBU listed somewhere on the label. Plus, certain brews like pilsners, lagers, and porters tend to be less bitter than ones like IPAs and pale ales.
However, keep in mind the other ingredients a beer might have. These can greatly impact how bitter a beer tastes, even if its IBU number is high. For instance, a beer with fruit or honey flavors can taste less bitter than another without said flavors, even if its IBU number is higher.