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What is IBUs in Beer?

You’ve probably heard of the term IBU. Whether you’re a beer enthusiast or not, you’re here to discover what IBUs in beers are. 

The short answer is that it measures how bitter beer is, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. Strap in as we delve into the meaning and examples of IBUs in beer.

What Is Ibus in Beer

IBU?

The International Bitterness Units scale is what IBU stands for. It is a way to measure how bitter a beer is. IBUs measure the amount of isohumulone in a beer in parts per million.

People thought it was important to measure how bitter beer was, and giving it a number made it easier for people to understand. In short, the IBU scale is a way to measure and learn more about a beer’s characteristics.

But even though the numbers are precise, how bitter beer tastes can vary greatly. There is a link between IBUs and how bitter a beer tastes.

Still, to fully understand the idea, we must discuss how bitterness is measured.

IBU Scale

International Bitterness Units are measured on a scale from 0 to infinity. You could keep adding hops and malt compounds to make beer more bitter without stopping.

There may be a limit to how many IBUs a beer can have. This is because there is a physical limit to how many bittering compounds you can put into one glass. 

There are records of beers with more than 1000 IBUs, but you don’t often see something that high.

The IBU rating of almost all the beer you’ll ever drink will be between Zero and 120. Zero is the least bitter, and 120 is the most bitter.

The bitterness could be higher, but a person’s taste buds are less sensitive than that range. The parts per million of iso-alpha acids and polyphenols make the beer taste more bitter as the IBUs number increases.

Commercial breweries use this equipment to measure IBUs as a quality control tool. They make many of the same kinds of beer and want to ensure it always tastes the same. 

Quality control is a big part of brewing. The IBU measurement lets them determine their beer’s bitterness and make a consistent product.

IBUs of 9 Beer Styles

IBUs are often linked to India pale ales, known for having a lot of hops and being very bitter. Still, you can also find IBU ratings on many other types of beer. Here is a list of how many IBUs are in different kinds of beer:

Pale ale

Regarding ABV (alcohol by volume), flavor intensity, body, and mouthfeel, American pale ales are between lagers and IPAs. Pale ales aren’t as malty or full-bodied as IPAs. 

Their usual IBU range of 30–50 can taste more bitter because there is less to balance the bitterness.

Lager 

Most American lagers are lower on the IBU scale, between 5 and 15. Lagers are lighter in body and crisper, with just enough bitterness to balance the malt flavors.

Sour beer

Most sour beers are pretty low on the IBU scale, between 5 and 10, but some can go up to 25. A few things can cause low IBUs. 

  • Sour beer’s natural acidity is an excellent counterbalance to the sweetness of the malt.
  • The low amount of sugar that has dissolved.
  • Some of the microorganisms in the fermentation process do not tolerate hops.

Gose beer

Gose beer is a style of sour wheat beer. Like other sour beers, it tends to have a lower IBU level, between 5 and 15.

Wheat Ales

Wheat ales are lighter and less sweet than their malted barley counterparts. Most wheat ales are made in the Belgian style. 

This beer also uses fruit or yeasts that give the beer a fruity smell and taste. As a result, the IBU number is usually between 10 and 35, which isn’t too high.

Barley wine

Most American barley wine beers have strong, complex flavors, with a lot of malty sweetness balanced by a lot of bitterness from the hops. 

On the IBU scale, barleywines can go as high as 100, but most are between 50 and 100.

Stout

Like many other types of beer, there are different kinds of stout. Like silky-smooth oatmeal stouts, most stouts are between 25 and 40 on the IBU scale, which measures bitterness. 

Imperial stouts with stronger flavors (and higher ABV levels) can reach 50–80 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), which is close to or even higher than some IPAs.

Pilsner

Pilsner beer is light, crisp, and refreshing. Pilsners tend to have IBU ratings in the lower to middle range, between 20 and 40. 

This is because some hop bitterness gives them a bite to go with their natural crispness.

IPA

People tend to think that Indian pale ale is very bitter, shown by its IBU range of 50–70. As a beer subcategory, American IPAs have become very different, ranging from hoppier Double IPAs or Imperial IPAs with high IBUs to lighter session IPAs. 

Most New England-style IPAs are lower on the IBU scale. The different types and amounts of hops used in these beers give them bright, fruity, and floral aromas and flavors.

IBU scale and Perceived bitterness

IBU scale and Perceived bitterness

This bitterness is what we actually taste, not measured from the scale. This is complicated because the level of bitterness and sweetness that each person tastes is different. 

The IBU scale is not based on how bitter something tastes but on how much iso-alpha acid it has. Hops are just one of the things that go into beer, and their bitter taste can be covered up by other flavors, like the sweetness of the malt. 

Because of this, the IBU number doesn’t always tell you how bitter a beer will taste by itself.

As the amount of malt in a beer increases, so does the sweetness left over in the beer. The bitter acids are canceled out by the sweetness, making it taste less bitter. 

This is like a cup of strong black coffee. Black coffee can taste bitter, but when you add sugar, the sweetness makes up for the bitterness. 

The coffee is still as bitter as before, but the sweetness of the sugar has covered up the bitterness. A 40 IBU American Pale Ale with little malt flavor tastes substantially more bitter than a 40 IBU Oatmeal Stout with a greater malt flavor.

Now that we know what IBU is and how it works, we can use its scale as a general rule to figure out how bitter or hoppy a beer might be. We also know that we must consider the beer style since other flavors can make the bitterness stronger or hide it. 

Related Reading: How Acidic Is Beer? – Check Them out Here

Final Thoughts

Though the IBU scale exists, different beers still have different tastes.

Some have a higher bitterness rating on the scale but taste sweet, and some rate lower but are more bitter. 

The scale is a good reference, but it is not everything.