News and Events

Jul
19
2019

HOPS ARE TO BEER WHAT HERBS ARE TO FOOD Understanding the bitterness of beer

Do you know where the bitterness in your favourite brew comes from?

Hint: it’s all in the hops!

Hops are the sexiest ingredient in beer – the only one we could realistically do without, and yet the only one with its own veritable fan club!” – Lucy Corne, beer writer and judge.

Hops are the sexiest ingredient in beer – the only one we could realistically do without, and yet the only one with its own veritable fan club!” – Lucy Corne, beer writer and judge.

But even if you don’t really care about what makes beer bitter, knowing how (relatively) bitter one is will let you know beforehand if you’re likely to enjoy it.

So how do you find out?

Fortunately, brewers invented a way to measure the bitterness of your beer – before you even take that first sip!

Did you know?
Isohumulone is the acid found in hops that gives beer its bitter bite.

HOW BITTER IS ‘BITTER’?

The International Bitterness Unit (IBU) scale measures the number of compounds in a beer that make the beer taste bitter. IBUs usually scale from five to 120 (although there’s technically no limit), with most beers falling between 15 and 80. Higher IBUs indicate a more bitter beer.

But bitterness isn’t everything – beer is all about balance.

“Beer has a tastebud-satisfying bitterness, but balancing that with other tastes and aromas is what creates a palate-pleasing combination,” says Tshepo Tloubatla, Beer Culture Manager at SAB & AB InBev Africa. “This isn’t something you can measure with IBUs.”

 

“Knowing about IBUs allows you to know your own preference and judge which beers would suit your particular palate,” – Tshepo Tloubatla, Beer Culture Manager at SAB & AB InBev Africa.

“Knowing about IBUs allows you to know your own preference and judge which beers would suit your particular palate,” – Tshepo Tloubatla, Beer Culture Manager at SAB & AB InBev Africa.

BITTER IS BETTER (FOR SOME)

And while most beers fall between 15 and 80 IBUs, Corne explains that within the craft beer industry, many brewers push the hop to new levels.

One of the world’s most bitter beers comes from Danish gypsy brewery Mikkeller and is named, appropriately, “1 000 IBU”, while The Kraken (an imperial India Pale Ale from Triggerfish Brewing in Somerset West) clocks in higher at 1 254 IBU. The beer was conceptualised to celebrate the brewery’s 1 000th Facebook fan and was brewed to meet the fan count on the day – 1 254.

Where does your favourite brew style fall on the IBU scale?

  • American pale lagers: 8-12
  • Brown ale: 15-25
  • Pale ale: 15-30
  • Märzen/Oktoberfest: 18-25
  • English bitter: 20-35
  • Pils and pilsners: 20-40
  • Porter: 20-40
  • Dry stout: 25-60
  • India Pale Ale: 40-75
  • Double India Pale Ale: 75-100


“Knowing about IBUs allows you to know your own preference and judge which beers would suit your particular palate,” Tloubatla said.

Most importantly: don’t let IBUs stop you from exploring new beers!

To learn more about your favourite beer – and the beer-making process – sign up for our tour.


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