IBUs have been up and coming in the beer world for some time now, especially around craft beer. They are now typically found on menus alongside ABVs and many breweries -including ourselves- are putting them on their cans and bottles. But what do they mean? Interpreting these numbers could probably help you decide which beer you want out of the two you’ve narrowed the list down to, it can also make you seem like a beer aficionado to your friends as many people are still yet to sweep aside the cloudy mist surrounding these strange ratings. So let's delve into it, shall we?
IBU stands for International Bitterness Units. It is a measurement made by brewers of the isomerized alpha acids (bittering chemicals) found in your beer; the things that make it taste bitter, and these alpha acids mainly come from the hops. This precise chemical measurement matches up extremely well with how bitter your beer actually tastes to you and this is why people are putting it on their labels. The scale goes from 5 (least bitter) up to 120 (most bitter) but this is not set in stone and in theory there is no end to the scale; however after about 110-120 IBU we mere humans can’t perceive any noticeable differences anymore.
The measurement of IBUs were first invented, or used, as a quality control tool for brewers so that they could make sure that every batch of beer they produced was exactly the same as the last one i.e. a consistent product. It is only recently that they have found their way out of the laboratory and into the public sphere for the consumer to use.
Wrong. Now we’ve explained to you what IBUs are we’re quite sure you can work out that IBUs are not a rating system for how good your beer is. You can head over to Beer Advocate for that sort of information.
We hope we’ve swept aside the mist that was clouding IBUs. When comparing beers of the same style IBUs can be very useful however they don’t indicate how great the beer is or, necessarily, how it will taste, but they will tell you approximately how “hoppy” or bitter a beer might be. Think of them as actual measurements of bitterness in the beer and a solid piece of information on the side of your beer alongside ABV and the scrumptious sounding brewers tasting notes.Where it gets tricky with IBUs is that not all beer is made the same, that being that you have stouts and ales and pilsners and sours and so on and so forth. The IBU scale is set the same for all beers, however different malt roasts and grains all impart different flavours into your beer that the IBU scale doesn’t account for. So you could find a stout which has a higher IBU rating than, let's say, an ale, but the ale tastes much bitterer to you. The IBUs tell you that the stout is bitterer but the ale tastes bitterer, this is the folly of IBUs. They only really work for comparing like for like beer i.e. beers of the same style. IBUs are most useful when looking at IPAs, why? because these are beers with a larger hop content than most and in which, most often, bitterness is a forward and desired flavour and where IBU counts can really help point you in the direction of a beer you'll enjoy.
This is the first episode in a series that we’re going to be running over the course of the next few months, and each instalment is going to take a closer look at a certain style of beer and find out what makes it unique. We’re also going to look into the history of each style as well, because many beers have a quirky or unique history that's very interesting; to beer nerds like us at least. After all, beer is around 9000 years old! There has gotta be some good stories hidden in there somewhere! Without further ado lets get into it.
Footnote: We’re not here to express an opinion on the subject of same-sex marriage or on whether or not people should be boycotting Coopers. We’re here to give our two cents on how this whole and rather shameful farce has come about and, now that everything has died down, to take all of what we know and lay it out for people to read.