What Is IBU in Beer? Meaning & Guide (2023 Updated)

Last Updated on April 9, 2023 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
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


Is a 20 IBU bitter?

A 20 IBU can and cannot be bitter. The taste of a beer depends on a personal preference.

The International Bitterness Units Scale measures the compounds of hops in beer in parts per million of isohumulone, which gives perceived bitterness. 

What is the IBU of Corona beer?

Corona beer contains around 22 IBU. The bitterness of the beer depends on the palate of the person. 

Is 60 IBU a lot?

Yes, 60 IBU can be a lot, but its bitterness depends on the person’s preference. For instance, a strong Amber ale with an IBU range of 60 is less bitter than Pale Ale with 55 IBU. 

What is a strong IBU?

A strong IBU means it contains more chemicals that can result in more bitterness. 

The associated IBUs help breweries to standardize the bitterness of a beer; however, since the bitterness of a drink is based on preference, it can be hard to say if it is less or too bitter. 

Final Thoughts 

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. 



Lisa Dimarco

Lisa is a freelance lifestyle writer specializing in nightlife, leisure, and celebration. She has been in the field for eight years and has written articles featured in various local blogs and lifestyle magazines. For Lisa, there’s nothing better than an ice-cold drink after a rough day (she’s not fussy). But she also likes to get a bit fancy every now and then. She believes you can never go wrong with a Moscow Mule or a classic Daiquiri anywhere you go. Contact at [email protected] or learn more about us here.

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