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IBU – The International Bitterness Unit

A Spectrophotometer - aparently after becoming radioactive

As beer gets hoppier and beer geeks get geekier this term is getting more use than ever. So what the hell is an IBU?

As you have probably already determined from the title of the post (if not, stop drinking immediately and consult a physician) IBU stands for International Bitterness Unit. Why international? Because beer comes from lots of nations – and for once, rather than debate the merits of metric vs. English measure, we have a single standard. OK, I made that up, but I assume that it is why.

To determine the IBU of a beer, brewers get to play with one of the toys that they all want and spend time begging their significant others for – a spectrophotometer. Yes, I copied that from wikipedia, I have no idea what that is but in all honesty it doesn’t sound like the kind of thing I would want near my beer.

Anyhow, what is more important here is what the IBU means to you. And even more important, what it means to me.

Essentially its a measure of how bitter a beer is. But here is where things get stoopid. A malty beer, even with a high IBU may taste less bitter than another less malty beer with a lower IBU. So essentially we have another irrelevant scale on which to separate beers and give brewers something to brag to one another about. That is further reinforced when we learn that the scale is supposed to cap out at around 100 IBU (being miserably / deliciously hoppy) yet we see beers being pumped out of breweries with labels indicating 135 IBUs. I am fairly certain that during the bottling of these beers the brewer stands in a corner backed by lightning strikes making a bellowing laugh and chanting IBU – IBU – IBU.

So basically what we will gather from this labeling is that a higher IBU beer is a hoppier beer. That’s about it. There is some helpful information about the IBU over on wikipedia, but wikipedia is hardly as reputable as my beer blog – so you may as well just stick around here.

When a beer lists its IBUs on the bottle, we will share it with you in our reviews. Purely to perpetuate the drive to create the craziest, undrinkable beer possible – and sell it to Amy.

13 thoughts on “IBU – The International Bitterness Unit”

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