IBU in Beer: What It Is and How It Works

ibu in beer

If you love beers, you will probably know that multiple pieces of information are printed on a beer bottle label. One of the highly common pieces of information you will find about beers is their listed IBU. This will be present on beer bottles, cans, and also outside a brewery. But what is IBU, and what does it signify? It is time you found out everything about IBUs.

What Is IBU In Beer?

First of all, the acronym IBU means International Bitterness Unit. Sometimes, IBU also stands for International Bittering Unit. Whatever it stands for, IBU refers to the level of bitterness of a bottle or a can of beer. IBU is a chemical measurement quantifying the compounds that cause bitterness in beers. These include oxidized and isomerized alpha acids, polyphenols, and similar compounds.

There was a time when it was a big challenge to determine and discuss the level of bitterness of a beer. However, things got simple after the introduction of the IBU system. The exact procedure of measuring IBU in beers is an uphill task. It involves the use of highly precise scientific equipment. Instead of getting into the technicalities of measuring the IBU of a beer, it will help to know that it measures the bitterness of beers.

How IBU Works In Beer?

There are thousands of brewers who work really hard to shape the flavor of their beer brands so that people love their beers. They do so by balancing the different notes of sweetness present in the sugars found in the malted grains with the bitterness of the hops. The IBU scale sets a standard for the number of compounds present in a beer that can give off a bitter taste. The scale also helps brewers manage effective quality control.

One of the primary ingredients used to manufacture beer is hops. It is a fragrant herb that contains alpha acids. When the brewing process, necessary to manufacture beer, converts the sugars into alcohol, it helps the bittering compounds undergo oxidation and isomerization. This helps in the production of iso-acids. This gives a bitter taste to beers after combining them with polyphenols.

What Is The Highest IBU Beer?

Since IBU acts as the scale to determine the level of bitterness of beers, brewers use it as a guideline during the production of alcoholic beverages. You may think that the higher the IBU, the bitterer the beer will taste. However, it is not the same all the time. The level of bitterness in beers is subjective and depends upon the level of tolerance towards bitterness of a drinker.

Nonetheless, the higher the IBU, the bitterer the beer is in reality. The highest level, according to the IBU scale, is 120. However, the maximum that beers reach is 100 IBUs. You will also find beers that have extremely high bitterness. However, unfortunately, the human palate is unable to detect the difference above the 120 range.

What Is The Lowest IBU Beer?

Like high-IBU beers, there are also some beers that come with low IBUs. The lower the IBU level, the less bitter it will be. First-timers will find such beers with low bitterness acceptable. However, daily drinkers of beer will prefer something bitter and strong to quench their beer thirst.

What Is A Good IBU For Beer?

Although the IBU scale ranges from 5 to 120 for beers, there is no suitable IBU for beers. This is because beers with an IBU of 20 may seem bitter to one drinker and plain to another. Similarly, an extremely bitter beer with an IBU of 120 may seem tasty to one person and undrinkable to another. Thus, in other words, it is difficult to determine a specific IBU range as the most suitable. It is entirely dependent upon the sensory perception of a person’s tongue.

Does IBU Matter At All?

If you ask a beer manufacturer, you will understand how tough it is to answer this question. The answer to this question is both yes and no. IBU matters a lot when you are given different types of craft beer, and you are unable to decide which one to taste. However, IBU matters to a certain extent because it cannot perceive how your tongue will taste a given beer.

It is important to remember that IBU measures only the amount of bittering compounds present in a beer. At the same time, the human receptors and taste buds are extremely complex parts of the body. These experience different types of flavors and give birth to an ultimate experience created from a rich array of tastes.

Some specific flavors in a beer, especially a malt, lower the bitterness of a beer. Thus, even if a beer has a high IBU, it may not taste as bitter as it has been classified due to its high malt content. However, you can still use IBU to help you compare the bitterness of different beer brands.

IBUs of Some Popular Types of Beer

There are different types of beer with numerous breweries. Here are the IBUs for some of the most popular types of beer.

  • Lager

American lagers usually come with low IBUs, ranging from 5 to 15. Lager beers are crisp and lighter-bodied. It depends upon the bitterness to create a balance with the malt flavors.

  • Sour Beer

This type of beer is lower than the lager beers in terms of IBUs ranging from 5 to 10. However, you may find some sour beers with a higher IBU of around 25.

  • Pilsner

The pilsner beers have a crisp and refreshing flavor. These types of beer fall in the mid-IBU range group from 20 to 40.

  • Barley Wine

The American barley wine beers fall in the higher IBU range group. The IBU of such types of beer ranges from 50 to 100.


When you talk about beers, it is all about balance. IBU is one of the several indicators used by breweries to determine the taste of beers. The acronym IBU stands for International Bitterness Unit. You will find the IBU number of every beer bottle and can. It gives you an idea about the bitterness of a beer brand. However, it does not tell you the actual level of bitterness because the presence of malt lowers the bitterness to some extent.

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