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What does IBU rating mean in a beer? International Bitterness Unit Beer Fun Facts

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Published on Oct 31, 2011

What does IBU rating mean in a beer? International Bitterness Unit
Beer Fun Facts
IBU = International Beer Unit

European Bitterness Units scale, often abbreviated as EBU, is a scale for measuring the perceived bitterness of beer, with lower values being generally "less bitter" and higher values "more bitter". The scale and method are defined by the European Brewery Convention, and the numerical value should be the same as of the International Bitterness Units scale (IBU), defined in co-operation with the American Society of Brewing Chemists. However, the exact process of determining EBU and IBU values differs slightly, which may in theory result with slightly smaller values for EBU than IBU.

The European Brewery Convention also defines units for the colour of beer, for which the abbreviation EBC is used. This should not be confused with the bitterness units.

The International Bittering Units scale, or simply IBU scale, provides a measure of the bitterness of beer, which is provided by the hops used during brewing. Bittering units are measured through the use of a spectrophotometer and solvent extraction.

This technique was adopted at the same time as another method based on measuring the concentration (in milligrams per liter; parts per million w/v) of isomerized α acids in a beer, causing some confusion among small-scale brewers. The American Society of Brewing Chemists, in the introduction to its methods on measuring bitterness, points out some differences between the results of the two methods:

While the results of the IAA [isomerized α acids] methods are practically identical to those obtained by the [I]BU method for beer brewed with fresh hops, the IAAs of beer brewed with old or poorly stored hops, and with certain special hop extracts, can be significantly lower than the [I]BU figure.

The bittering effect is less noticeable in beers with a high quantity of malt, so a higher IBU is needed in heavier beers to balance the flavor. For example, an Imperial Stout may have an IBU of 50, but will taste less bitter than an English Bitter with an IBU of 30, because the latter beer uses much less malt than the former. The technical limit for IBU's is around 100; some have tried to surpass this number, but there is no real gauge after 100 IBUs when it comes to taste threshold. Light lagers without much bitterness will generally have 5 IBUs, while an India Pale Ale may have 100 IBUs or more.

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