What Is IBU In Beer?

When it comes to food and drink, there are many acronyms which denote specific things, and you’ll find them on several types of these products.

What Is IBU In Beer?

The thing is, it can often be very confusing when you see these acronyms and not know exactly what they’re referring to.

One of these is IBU, and you’ll typically see this acronym on beer, but what exactly does it mean? Is it important?

We’ve decided to help you with this and covered all the biggest questions when it comes to the meaning of IBU and why it’s essential. 

So, What Does IBU Mean?

IBU stands for International Bitterness Unit which is a scale to measure how bitter a particular beer is.

It was created in 1883 by German chemist Justus von Liebig who used hops as his main ingredient.

It measures the amount of alpha acids that are present in the hop flowers. The higher the number, the more bitter your beer will taste. 

The range goes from zero to 120 because past that, humans can no longer taste the bitterness. 

What’s The Point Of Measuring IBUs?

IBUs are measured before brewing so that brewers can make their beers as bitter or mild as they want.

This is done using different methods and techniques such as dry hopping, wet hopping, adding malt extract, etc.

How Do You Measure IBUs?

To measure IBUs, you use a special device called an IBU meter. There are two types: one that uses a colorimetric method and another that uses a potentiometer method.

The first type is cheaper than the second but has lower accuracy. However, the second type is more accurate and also easier to read.

Why Use An IBU Meter?

Using an IBU meter allows you to accurately measure the bitterness of your beer.

If you don’t have one, you may end up making a beer that tastes too sweet, bitter, sour, or any other flavor.

You can then adjust your recipe accordingly to get the perfect balance between those flavors.

How Accurate Is The Measurement To Us?

It’s important that we know that all of us are different, so what is listed as bitter may not necessarily taste so bitter to us individually. This is known as perceived bitterness.

So, if you’re looking at the IBU reading and think “that doesn’t seem right”, you should take into account that your perception of bitterness might differ from others.

That being said, the measurement is still quite accurate. You can easily tell if something is 10% or 20% stronger than normal just by looking at the numbers. 

Examples Of IBU Measurements By Beer

It’s perhaps easier to show examples of IBU measurements:

  • Lager = between 4 and 10 
  • Pilsner lager = between 25 and 45 
  • Pale ale = between 30 and 50 
  • Imperial stout = between 50 and 80 
  • Double IPA = between 65 and 100 

Can I Make My Own Recipe With A Different Amount Of IBUs?

Can I Make My Own Recipe With A Different Amount Of IBUs?

Yes, you can! All you need to do is add some extra ingredients to your recipe. For example, if you want a double IPA, you could add more malt extract to increase the IBUs.

Or, you could add some additional hops to make your beer even more bitter.

Is IBU Important When Making Beer?

Yes, it is! But, there’s a difference between IBUs and bitterness.

When you brew a beer, you want to create a balanced flavor profile. That means having both bitter and non-bitter notes in your beer.

If you only focus on the bitterness, then you’ll end up with a very bitter beer. On the other hand, if you focus only on the non-bitterness, then you’ll end up with a very weak beer.

So, when measuring IBUs, you must be careful about how much bitterness you want in your beer as it may affect the flavor.

How Does IBUs Affect Flavor?

There are many theories about why IBUs impact the flavor of beer. Some say that IBUs give the beer a fruity aroma while others say that they give it a citrus aroma.

However, most agree that IBUs can change the flavor of beer. They can either enhance certain flavors or suppress them.

For example, IBUs can help bring out the fruitiness of hops. It’s believed that this is because the higher IBUs cause hop oils to release their aromas.

On the other hand, IBUs can make beers less bitter. This is because high amounts of IBUs will prevent hop oils from releasing their aroma.

As this is rather conflicting, it’s pretty difficult to know for sure exactly which of these is the case.

IBUs And Alcohol Content

IBUs also play a role in determining alcohol content. As mentioned earlier, IBUs determine how bitter your beer is.

The more IBUs your beer has, the more bitter it will be. However, the amount of IBUs does not directly correlate to the strength of your beer.

The reason for this is that IBUs has no effect on the actual alcohol content of your beer. Instead, they simply alter the way the alcohol interacts with yeast during fermentation.

This is because IBUs have an effect on the enzymes that break down sugars into alcohol. These enzymes are called alpha amylase.

Alpha amylase breaks down starches into smaller molecules, such as glucose, fructose, and maltose. The larger the molecule, the slower the enzyme works.

Therefore, the longer the sugar molecules are before they’re broken down, the more time the yeast has to ferment them. In turn, this increases the amount of alcohol produced by the yeast.

The Bottom Line

The IBU scale can be very useful to beer makers and fans of beer alike, but it’s important to know the difference between the scale and perceived bitterness, as we’re all different. 

Much like the Scoville scale for spice, the IBU scale can help us put things into perspective of how things taste when compared with other products like them. 

We hope this guide has been of use to you. Enjoy your beer!

Andrew Carr
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