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What Is IBU In Beer?

As any beer enthusiast will tell you, getting a good reading of the IBU (International Bittering Unit) in a certain beer can make or break a drinking experience.

In this article, we’ll take a look at what IBU actually is, why it matters when brewing beer and how its measurement works. Let’s begin by defining what Ibu is in beer.

Definition of IBU in Beer

Ibu stands for International Bittering Units, and it is the measuring scale used to measure the bitterness in a certain style of beer. This scale ranges from 0 to 100, with 0 being the least bitter and 100 being the most bitter.

As you can guess, beers with higher IBUs like hoppy IPAs have a much more potent bitterness compared to beers with lower IBUs such as lagers or pilsners which tend to have little to no bitterness at all.

Why IBU Matters In Beer Brewing

Ibus are important in beer brewing as they provide insight into the flavor profile of a certain style of beer. Brewers care about the bitterness level of their beers since this helps them create balanced beers that are palatable and enjoyable to drink.

For example, an overly bitter IPA will become unenjoyable quickly due to the intense flavors of high amounts of IBUs whereas an overly sweet stout might not be something people would want to drink due to either lack of flavor dimension or simply because it becomes too cloying.

By understanding IBU, breweries are able to create balanced beers that people won’t tire quickly from lingering flavors or lack thereof.

How IBU Measurement Works

The way that IBUs are measured is through an analyzer called The Spectrophotometer which determines how many bitter compounds such as hop acids present themselves in a sample by passing light through it and determining how much gets absorbed from these substances, this is then quantified into what we call an ‘International Bittering Unit’ (IBU).

The majority of craft breweries have access to this type of analyzer which provides brewers with great insight into their recipe formulation and enables them to adjust sweetness and bitterness levels before production begins so they can try different recipes until they get one that consumers love!

Now let’s take a look at the history behind IBU in beer and bring us up-to-date on where things stand today before looking at some popular IBU found within various styles:

The History Of Ibu In Beer

Ibu? From ancient ales to modern-day IPAs, the ‘bitter meter’ has certainly come a long way!

Early Developments Of The IBU Scale

Brewers have been hoppin’ mad for hops since World War II – way before the concept of IBUs was even a twinkle in their eyes! They might be called ‘hopperizates’, but like us mere mortals call them hops, they studied hop extracts and figured out what gave their beers some extra oomph and bitter kick.

But, alas! Until modern-day methods of measuring IBUs were developed, brewers worldwide were left in the dark when communicating beer styles to one another!

Brewers across Europe took on a fruitful mission – they joined forces to create what we now know as the ‘International Bittering Unit Scale.’ This ingenious tool could measure the alpha acid content of various samples in Europe, enabling brewers to achieve their desired taste and bitterness levels among various labels. Now there’s no longer any guessing game – just measuring and sippin’!

Evolution Of The Ibu Measurement

Huh, talk about dodging the hops! The big beer companies saw a chance to whip up some milder brews with zero IBUs in the US, leaving IPAs non-existent! But the craft breweries weren’t about to let them have all the fun – they found ways to pack a punch of hop flavor that was dynamically balanced and still delightfully smooth.

Now, thanks to their ingenuity, we can enjoy those British pale ales with a hoppy bite yet a mellow malty finish: deliciousness looks good on both sides of the pond!

Popularity Of Measuring IBU In Different Regions

These days, craft brewers all over the world have received a fantastic blessing – they can now get their hands on top-notch spectrophotometers, meaning they can analyze their brews like never before, crafting delicious beers with the precise recipes they desire.

Not to be outdone, homebrewers have made strides too – with inexpensive hygrometers and thermometers, they’re able to determine flavor profiles and try to recreate them in the comfort of their very own homes! Bye-bye expensive equipment, hello amazing beers!

Common IBUs for Beer Styles

Now let’s take a look most common IBUs found in several popular styles brewed world today:

Common IBUs for Lagers and Pilsners

You could describe the lighter style malt’s characteristics as ‘barely there’, with a hint of hop aromas and bitterness – paltry compared to their hoppier counterparts! With an IBU rating of 10^20, you would be hard-pressed to detect a difference.

Common IBUs for Amber Ale and Brown Ale

These light-bodied ales may slightly miss the mark, likely ranging between 15-25 IBU, but don’t worry – their interactions with malty goodness keep it balanced and far from sloppy, embracing a warm alcohol content with open arms!

Common IBUs for IPA’s, Pale Ales, and Belgian Beers

If you’re all about that hop-life, you’ll find your taste buds swaying towards IPAs. A veritable ‘hop-cornucopia’, they bring a whole bunch of hops flavor to the party – so much so, you’ll barely notice the hops in basic lagers – until, of course, those Belgian Trappist ales come around and make a perfectly perceptible presence. Ultimately, the ratio of hops you get all comes down to the style and how much intensity is desired. That said, whichever variety employed can range from just 32 up to 60 IBUs – and all points in between.

Common IBUs for Stout and Porter

For darker malts, the intense malt characteristics often tilt the scales towards umami in the 40-120 IBU spectrum, providing complexity without extreme harshness. These malty selections are favored among those seeking a barrel-aged treat, found easily in the marketplace.

Factors That Affect The Overall Bitterness Of Beer

For the perfect final product, three main ingredients are needed; namely malt, hop selection, and brewing techniques – it’s these nuances that determine how much of the character you’ll see in the finished beer. But if you want even more detail, then you need to delve a bit deeper!

Malt Characteristics

Malty brews are the solid foundation for any good beer, easing your tastebuds onto the ride without overwhelming them. Higher grades of darkness bring the necessary notes of chocolate, coffee and dryness, providing a nice balance that stops you from being left with a heavy and unpleasant taste that can be too much too soon.

Hops Selection

Choosing your arsenal carefully is essential for a wide variety of styles! Avoiding overly harsh tones, select citrusy, aromatic properties to appear courtesy aggressive; focus on the previously mentioned styles to bring balance against the malt profile to allow your natural flavors to coalesce as closely as possible.

Brewer Techniques

When it comes to beer brewing, there are so many techniques available at our fingertips to make the perfect brew! A good brewer knows that IBU, is the measure of the bitterness of a beer don’t just come from hops alone.

Specific yeast strains and mash temperatures can change up the IBU. This can be done by adding some extra punchy hops in the boil or by getting creative with post-fermentation additions, where you can have a lot of fun exploring new flavors and aromas! So, go on, put your creative brewing hat on and start experimenting today – who knows what great beers you could create!


IBU, or International Bitterness Units, is a measure of the bitterness in beer. It can be balanced in homebrewing by adding and subtracting hops based on how hoppy each type of beer should be. With more hops – and more IBU – comes a more intense bitterness.

Too much hops, though, and you’ll need a tall glass of water to wash down that IBU kick! But if you mix in just enough hops, your homebrew will have a pleasantly balanced bite to it. So go forth and make sure that your IBU-to-hop ratio is just right!

Author Image Fabian
I’m Fabian, homebrewer and beer taster. I’m also the editor of Beer100. I love travelling the world and trying out new handcraft beer and different beer styles. I’m not an expert in brewing beer, but I know a few things about beer, which I share on this blog. If you need help or have a question, please comment below.

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