Do you know where the bitterness in your favourite brew comes from?
Hint: it’s all in the hops!
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!
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.”
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.
“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!
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