When you’re scanning a beer menu at your local brewery, what grabs your attention first? Is it the flavor profile? Or maybe the beer style? If your palate has told you time and again that hoppy IPAs just aren’t for you, then it’s probably the IBU listing that your eye goes to first. Those three little letters can tell you a lot about a beer, and that is whether or not you’re getting an easy-sipper or a hoppy, heavy-hitter.
In this blog, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about IBUs, so the next time you’re choosing a beer for happy hour, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting.
What Does IBU Mean?
If you assumed that IBU was just some mysterious acronym floating on your beer menu, guess again, because it can actually tell you a lot about a beer’s flavor. IBU, which stands for International Bitterness Units, indicates a beer’s bitterness, which is derived from hops used during the brewing process. Inside a hop cone, you’ll find lupulin — tiny little yellow pods that contain resin and essential oils that drive aroma, flavor, and bitterness in all of your favorite beers.
High IBU vs. Low IBU: What Does it Mean?
The IBU value of any beer is based on the bitterness scale that starts at zero and climbs all the way up to 100. You may have heard some people argue that beers can hit over 100 IBUs, but our beer brewers will tell you that at that point, your taste buds can’t actually detect any additional bitterness.
Here at Hi-Wire Brewing, you’ll find that our craft beers range all over the IBU scale. For example, our Double Hi-Pitch IPA clocks in at 65 IBUs. It’s seriously hopped and meant to have bold bitterness in its flavor profile — that’s part of what makes it so delicious. Our highest IBU beer is Man Eater, a double IPA that hits a whopping 93 on the IBU beer scale and is made for beer drinkers who are looking for a heavy-hitting, bitter beer. And of course, we can’t forget the lighter side of the spectrum where we have Mountain Water — an easy-drinking, refreshing ale, with a low score of just 5 IBUs.
While we can gauge a lot about a beer from its IBUs, it’s also important to point out that the number isn’t everything. In fact, it can be somewhat deceiving. What matters most is how our taste buds perceive bitterness (that’s the real kicker). A great example is our Hi-Pitch Mosaic IPA — it has 55 IBUs, just ten more than our Lo-Pitch Hazy IPA. But most people who sip on this beer perceive it to be much more bitter in comparison, and that’s because Lo-Pitch’s bright citrus flavor and sweetness from the malt help balance out the bitterness. So while yes, bitterness definitely impacts the flavor of some of our hoppier beers, the truth is, bitterness is essential to balancing out any beer style — even perceived non-bitter beers like our Leisure Time Lager at 15 IBUs or Margarita Sour at 5 IBUs.
In most beers, there’s an element of sweetness, and if it’s not counterbalanced by bitterness, then what you get is a sweet, dull tasting beer — not something you’d want to drink much of. That’s why whether a beer’s bitterness is on the strong side or barely noticeable, it’s essential to creating that great beer flavor we all love.
How to Measure Bitterness with the IBU Beer Scale
Now, for a little chemistry lesson.
IBU measures bitterness that comes from the lupulin’s bitter acids, called iso-α-acids. The most commonly used method to determine a beer’s IBU is spectrophotometry, where beer is extracted with an organic solvent, creating a solution that then gets exposed to UV light. And the more UV light that solution absorbs, the more bitterness is present and the higher the IBU score of the beer.
Your Bitterness Guide: IBUs in Different Beer Styles
Whether you want to steer clear of bitterness altogether, find your perfect match, or challenge your taste buds with a beer that’s crazy high in IBUs, most craft beer styles sit within a range that can help steer you in the right direction. Here’s a quick breakdown to make it easier for you.
American Lagers, like our Leisure Time Lager, tend to sit on the lighter side of the scale between 5-15 IBUs. They’re smooth, crisp, refreshing, and easy to drink.
Sour beers, like our Pink Lemonade Session Sour, also clock in low on the IBU scale with a range between 5-15 IBUs. They’re naturally acidic, perfectly balancing the malt sweetness in the beer.
Stout beers, like our series of 10W-40 Stouts, are dark, full-bodied, and silky smooth. Their IBU range is between 20-40, with some Imperial Stouts even hitting 70 IBUs thanks to their bolder profiles.
Last but not least, there’s the IPA — a beer style known for its bitterness. IPAs and Double IPAs, like our Hi-Pitch Mosaic IPA, typically stay within an IBU range of 50-70 IBUs. American craft IPAs are known for their heaviness and for having a high ABV in addition to having a high IBU.
Find Your New Favorite Beer at Hi-Wire Brewing
Whether you’re looking for a beer that climbs high or falls low on the bitterness scale, we’ve got you covered. Visit one of our craft brewery locations near you to find your new favorite.