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What Is IBU in Beer? Meaning & Guide (2024 Best Edition)

What Is IBU in Beer

Last Updated on March 23, 2024 by Lydia Martin

Beer flavors can go from sour, sweet, and bitter, but is it true the International Bitterness Units can be a helpful guide to knowing how bitter a beer is? 

We know that only some people are familiar with beer labels, so to give you a better understanding of what is IBU in beer, keep reading. 

What Is the International Bitterness Unit (IBU) In Beer? 

Glass of Beer

The International Bitterness Units is a standardized scale that measures the chemical compounds that make beer bitter. 

The IBU scale helps breweries to manage quality control and standardize the bittering compounds, like Polyphenols and oxidized alpha acids, that produce a bitter taste on a human palate.  

The IBU scale of beer ranges from 0 to 120, and as the IBU range gets higher, the beer tastes more bitter depending on the person’s taste buds. 

The IBU rating is often associated with India Pale Ales [1] because it contains high hop and bracing bitterness, but other beers also have their IBU rating. 

Is It Important To Know About It? 

Some beer drinkers have higher bitterness tolerance, and beer’s IBU is a helpful guide to tell everyone the beer’s bitterness.

The IBU scale is a chemical measurement of the bittering compounds like oxidized and iso-alpha acids, polyphenols, and other bittering chemicals that makes beer taste bitter. 

Also, the brewers use the IBU scale as it correlates well with the sensory bitterness of a beer. 

What’s The IBU Scale?

Hand Holding Glass of Beer

IBU stands for International Bitterness Units, and the IBU scale is used in brewing beer to measure the bitterness of a beer. 

The brewers measure IBUs. They shape the beer’s flavor profile by balancing the sugars from the malt grains and the bitterness from the hops. 

The scale standardizes the compounds and helps the brewers’ craft beers and manage quality control. 

When you combine polyphenols with isomerized alpha acids in the brewing process, it gives beer bitterness. 

How Do You Read This Scale? 

When reading the International Bitterness Unit scale, the higher the number, the higher the beer’s perceived bitterness, and vice versa. 

Commercial breweries use IBUs as quality control because they make large quantities of the same beer. It will help them produce a consistent product. 

Do All Beers With High IBU Taste Bitter? 

Close Up Shot of a Beer on Glass

Higher IBU ratings do not always mean the finished beer is bitter because some people have higher bitterness tolerance, and some prefer the bitter flavor. 

IBUs measure the bittering compound of a beer, and an IBU number can be a rough guide for more bitterness.  

As you can see, it’s all about experimenting with different flavor combinations to see what works and what doesn’t”

– Daniel Goh, Craft Beer Entrepreneur

Low IBU can indicate that it is not that bitter because it contains other flavors like sweetness and sourness (the beer’s sweetness is proportional to the malt profile). 

Therefore, not all beers with high IBU taste bitter, as it is a matter of personal preference. 

What is The Average IBU in Beers? 

The average IBU that you can find in American pale ales and other beer types ranges between 15 and 40.

Depending on your palate, beers with higher IBU can be too bitter for you. 

In brewing beer, malt is responsible for the sweetness. When the hops are added in the boiling process, it makes the beer bitter.

Amber Lagers and Oatmeal Stout range from 20 to 25 IBUs, India Pale Ale contains 55 to 70 IBUs, and American barley wines are 65 to 100 IBUs. 

Some beers contain an IBU of more than 120. For instance, Hoo Lawd IPA was laboratory tested and contained 658 IBU [2]. 

General IBU Ranges By Beer Style

Beer StyleStandard IBU
Saison 20-38
Hazy IPA 30-50
Pilsner25-45
Imperial Stout 50-80
Double IPA 65-100
Hazy Double IPA 45-80
Dry Stout 30-35
Light Lager 4-10
Pale Ale 30-50
Blond Ale 14-25
West Coast IPA 50-70

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What does IBU mean in beer?

IBU stands for International Bitterness Units, a measurement used to quantify the bitterness of beer. It indicates the concentration of bitter compounds, primarily iso-alpha acids derived from hops, in a given volume of beer.

The bitterness of beer is perceived on the palate, with higher IBU values correlating to a more pronounced bitterness.

IBU is a crucial factor in beer tasting and brewing, helping brewers achieve a desired balance of flavors and bitterness in their beer recipes.

How many IBUs are in a beer?

The number of IBUs in a beer varies depending on several factors, including the beer style, recipe, and brewing techniques used. While some beers may have low IBU values, indicating minimal bitterness, others can have significantly higher IBUs, resulting in a more assertive bitterness.

For example, light lagers and wheat beers typically have low IBU values ranging from 5 to 15, contributing to their mild and refreshing taste. In contrast, India Pale Ales (IPAs), known for their hop-forward flavor profiles, can have IBU values ranging from 40 to 100 or more, resulting in a bold and bitter taste experience.

Ultimately, the IBU level of a beer is determined by the brewer’s recipe and intentions, with each beer offering a unique balance of flavors, including bitterness, sweetness, and maltiness.

What is the highest IBU beer?

The highest IBU beer can vary depending on the specific brewing techniques and recipes employed by different breweries. However, some of the highest IBU beers on record have surpassed the 1000 IBU mark, showcasing an extreme concentration of bitter compounds. One example is “Tactical Nuclear Penguin” brewed by BrewDog, a Scottish craft brewery.

This beer was famously marketed as having an astronomical IBU value of over 1000, although the accuracy and relevance of such high IBU claims have been debated within the beer community.

It’s essential to note that while extremely high IBU values may sound impressive, the human palate may not perceive bitterness beyond a certain threshold. Additionally, factors such as beer balance, drinkability, and overall flavor profile are equally important considerations in crafting enjoyable beer experiences.

As such, while some breweries may experiment with pushing the limits of bitterness in their beers, most commercially available beers typically range within more moderate IBU values, offering a balanced and approachable taste for consumers.

How does IBU affect taste?

IBU (International Bitterness Units) measures the bitterness of beer, which directly influences its taste. The higher the IBU, the more bitter the beer tends to be. Bitterness in beer primarily comes from compounds in hops, particularly iso-alpha acids. When these compounds interact with the taste receptors on your tongue, they produce a bitter sensation.

IBU affects taste by providing balance to other flavors in the beer. In hop-forward styles like IPAs (India Pale Ales), a higher IBU can complement the sweetness of the malt, creating a harmonious balance between bitterness and sweetness.

On the other hand, beers with lower IBUs, such as lagers or wheat beers, tend to have a milder bitterness, allowing other flavors like maltiness or yeast character to come through more prominently.

Additionally, IBU can impact the perceived mouthfeel of a beer. Beers with higher IBUs may feel more astringent or drying on the palate due to the bitterness, while beers with lower IBUs may feel smoother and more refreshing.

Is high IBU better?

Whether high IBU is better depends on personal taste preferences and the style of beer being evaluated. Some beer enthusiasts enjoy the bold bitterness and complexity that high IBU beers offer, particularly in styles like double IPAs or imperial stouts. These beers can provide a robust flavor experience, with the bitterness adding depth and character to the overall taste profile.

However, for others, high IBU beers may be overwhelming or too intense. They may prefer beers with more moderate or balanced bitterness, allowing other flavors to shine without being overshadowed by the bitterness.

Ultimately, the perceived “betterness” of high IBU beers is subjective and varies from person to person. It’s essential for beer drinkers to explore different styles and IBU levels to discover what suits their individual tastes.

Can a beer have 0 IBU?

While it’s rare, technically speaking, a beer could have 0 IBU. However, achieving precisely 0 IBU in a beer is challenging due to the presence of even trace amounts of bitterness-contributing compounds from hops or other sources.

In practice, beers that are intentionally brewed to have minimal bitterness, such as some light lagers or certain fruit-infused beers, may have very low IBU values, approaching zero. However, it’s essential to note that even these beers may still have some negligible level of bitterness due to the nature of brewing ingredients and processes.

Brewers may also employ techniques like late hop additions or dry hopping to minimize bitterness while still imparting aroma and flavor from hops. While these techniques can reduce the perceived bitterness of a beer, it may not eliminate it entirely.

In summary, while it’s theoretically possible for a beer to have 0 IBU, in practical terms, most beers will have some level of bitterness, even if it’s minimal.

How many IBUs are in Heineken?

Heineken doesn’t typically disclose the exact IBU (International Bitterness Units) of their beer.

However, it’s generally considered to have a relatively low bitterness compared to many craft beers, likely falling in the range of 20-25 IBUs.

This level of bitterness contributes to its balanced and refreshing taste, making it a popular choice among beer drinkers worldwide.

Do all beers have IBU?

Yes, all beers technically have IBU, but the level varies significantly depending on factors such as the type of hops used, the brewing process, and the beer style. IBU measures the bitterness of a beer, primarily resulting from the hops added during brewing.

While some beers, like hoppy IPAs, boast high IBU levels upwards of 100 or more, others, such as light lagers or wheat beers, may have much lower IBU levels, sometimes even below 10. So, while IBU exists in all beers, its prominence differs widely across various styles.

What increases IBU in beer?

Several factors contribute to increasing the IBU in beer:

Hop Varieties: Different types of hops contain varying levels of alpha acids, which are responsible for bitterness. Brewers can select hops with higher alpha acid content to increase the bitterness of the beer.

Boil Time: The longer hops are boiled during the brewing process, the more bitterness they impart to the beer. Brewers can adjust the duration of the boil to control the IBU level of the final product.

Hop Additions: Brewers can add hops at different stages of the brewing process to achieve specific flavor profiles. Adding hops early in the boil increases bitterness, while adding them later, or during dry hopping, contributes more aroma and flavor without significantly increasing IBU.

Hop Concentration: Increasing the amount of hops used in brewing will generally result in a higher IBU. This can be achieved by adding more hops to the brewing process or using hop extracts, which are highly concentrated forms of hop bitterness.

Water Chemistry: The mineral content of the brewing water can affect how efficiently hops release their bitterness during the boil. Brewers may adjust the water chemistry to optimize hop utilization and achieve desired IBU levels.

In summary, the IBU of a beer is influenced by factors such as the choice of hops, brewing techniques, and water chemistry. By manipulating these variables, brewers can control the bitterness of their beer to create a wide range of flavor profiles to suit different tastes.

What is the IBU of Heineken?

Heineken, one of the world’s most recognized beer brands, has long been celebrated for its distinctive flavor profile, but the exact International Bitterness Units (IBU) of Heineken beer are not typically disclosed by the company. IBU is a measurement used in the brewing industry to gauge the bitterness of a beer, primarily influenced by the hops used during the brewing process.

While Heineken’s precise IBU remains undisclosed, it is widely regarded as having a relatively low bitterness compared to many craft beers.

The perceived bitterness in beer is influenced by various factors such as hop selection, brewing techniques, and the balance of flavors. Heineken’s IBU likely falls within a moderate range, estimated to be around 20-25 IBUs.

This level of bitterness contributes to Heineken’s renowned balanced and refreshing taste, making it a popular choice among beer drinkers worldwide, particularly those who prefer beers with milder bitterness levels.

What does IPA mean in beer?

IPA stands for India Pale Ale, a style of beer that has garnered immense popularity in the craft beer scene. The origins of IPA trace back to England in the 19th century when brewers developed a style of pale ale with higher hop content and alcohol levels to withstand long sea voyages to India, hence the name “India Pale Ale.”

IPAs are characterized by their pronounced hop flavor, aroma, and bitterness, which are achieved through the use of copious amounts of hops during the brewing process.

These hops impart a range of flavors, from citrusy and floral to piney and resinous, depending on the specific hop varieties used. The bitterness in IPAs is often balanced with a malty sweetness, creating a complex and multi-dimensional flavor profile.

Today, IPAs encompass a broad spectrum of sub-styles, including American IPA, English IPA, Double IPA (DIPA), Triple IPA (TIPA), New England IPA (NEIPA), and many more.

Each sub-style offers its unique take on the IPA, with variations in hop character, malt profile, and overall bitterness level, catering to diverse preferences within the beer community.

What is an example of an IBU beer?

An exemplary representation of a high IBU beer is the Double IPA (DIPA) or Triple IPA (TIPA). These bold and assertive beer styles are renowned for their intense hop bitterness and aroma, making them a favorite among hop enthusiasts seeking a robust flavor experience.
Double IPAs and Triple IPAs typically feature IBU levels ranging from 60 to well over 100, showcasing the full potential of hop bitterness.

These beers utilize a generous amount of hops, often with multiple hop additions during brewing, to achieve their signature bitterness and complexity. The high IBU content in Double and Triple IPAs is balanced with a substantial malt backbone, resulting in a beer that offers a harmonious interplay between bitterness, sweetness, and hop flavor.

Popular examples of high IBU beers include “Pliny the Elder” from Russian River Brewing Company, “Double Jack” from Firestone Walker Brewing Company, and “Hopslam Ale” from Bell’s Brewery.

These beers exemplify the artistry and innovation of brewers in crafting flavorful and aromatic brews with elevated bitterness levels, catering to the preferences of discerning beer enthusiasts.

What is the IBU of Corona?

Corona, a popular Mexican beer, is known for its light and refreshing taste, typically featuring a low level of bitterness. However, like many mass-produced lagers, the exact IBU (International Bitterness Units) of Corona is not readily disclosed by the brewery.

It is generally considered to have a relatively low IBU, likely falling in the range of 10-15 IBUs.

This modest bitterness contributes to its smooth and easy-drinking characteristics, making it a popular choice for many beer enthusiasts, particularly during warmer months or in beachside settings.

So, What Is IBU in Beer?

IBU in beer is a scale used by breweries to standardize the compounds that make the beer bitter, and it is a rough indicator of how bitter a beer can be. 

Yes, IBU can be a helpful guide on the expected bitterness of a beer, but it cannot be a basis for how bitter a beer is because the palate profile varies depending on a person. 

Beer IBUs are considered a general guideline for quality control, but how bitter the beer boils down to personal preference. 

References:

  1. What Is India Pale Ale Beer?
  2. Let’s Talk About the ‘Hoppiest Beer Ever Documented’
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