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Beer Question - IBU?
Old 01-19-2012, 01:55 PM   #1
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Beer Question - IBU?

I have been trying to expand my knowledge of craft beers, and I know there are some accomplished brewers and afficionados here. I alread have some favorites, that are far better than any of the mainstream watery brands, but I've had more mistakes than hits so far when buying.

After buying and sampling many craft beers, I don't care for "hoppy" or bitter beers (I know that may make me a whimp). I began using IBU numbers as a predictor to help prevent a purchase of a beer I wouldn't like, staying away from high IBU beers like most IPA's seem to be.

Then last night on the funniest cable show I know of (HDNet 7pm CST), a commercial craft brewer in Asheville gave a high IBU, heavily hopped beer to the host. the host tasted and said it wasn't as hoppy or bitter as he expected. The brewer said that while the beer was heavily hopped, it was also 'very malty' so the finished product was still pretty balanced despite the high IBU. Is IBU alone not a good predictor of bitterness? Is there a better way to know short of buying, tasting and making a lot of purchasing mistakes?

I have had a few higher IBU beers that surprised me too. For example Three Floyds Alpha King IPA at IBU 66, wasn't as bitter as I expected. And I've had some lower IBU beers that were a little bitter IMO. Still have a lot to learn...
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Old 01-19-2012, 02:45 PM   #2
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Although alpha king is at 66 ibu's, it's still a pale ale. 3 Floyd's dreadnought is nearly 100 ibu's - its a double iPa. I go by ibu's in estimating bitterness, but I can can see how different malts can influence the taste. You can look up the ibu's online or a t a beer store to get an idea before you purchase
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Old 01-19-2012, 02:49 PM   #3
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IBU stands for International Bitterness Units. The typical human threshold for detecting hop bitterness is about 11. When you get above about 40 or 50, it's "calculated" bitterness, because it's very difficult to measure above that level. So when a brewery says their beer has 75 IBU, they're just doing a calculation which might be way off from reality.

The other part of the issue is the level of malt used (which is where the Original Gravity or OG number comes in). If the malt level and the IBU level are appropriate for each other (at any level), then the beer is said to be "balanced."

Many very strong beers (high OG, high alcohol) have a high IBU level, so the malt sweetness and hop bitterness pretty much cancel each other out and you just enjoy a well balanced beer.

If, OTOH, the brewer loads the beer (such as an IPA) up with hops (to make an impression with certain beer geeks), then the bitterness comes through all too well, and those are probably the beers you don't care for.

The other side of that coin is beer that is brewed with a very high malt level but very low iBUs, which is where you'll find the very malty, often rather sweet beers such as bocks and doppelbocks.

Does that help?
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Old 01-19-2012, 02:58 PM   #4
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IBU stands for International Bitterness Units. The typical human threshold for detecting hop bitterness is about 11. When you get above about 40 or 50, it's "calculated" bitterness, because it's very difficult to measure above that level. So when a brewery says their beer has 75 IBU, they're just doing a calculation which might be way off from reality.

The other part of the issue is the level of malt used (which is where the Original Gravity or OG number comes in). If the malt level and the IBU level are appropriate for each other (at any level), then the beer is said to be "balanced."

Many very strong beers (high OG, high alcohol) have a high IBU level, so the malt sweetness and hop bitterness pretty much cancel each other out and you just enjoy a well balanced beer.

If, OTOH, the brewer loads the beer (such as an IPA) up with hops (to make an impression with certain beer geeks), then the bitterness comes through all too well, and those are probably the beers you don't care for.

The other side of that coin is beer that is brewed with a very high malt level but very low iBUs, which is where you'll find the very malty, often rather sweet beers such as bocks and doppelbocks.

Does that help?
Interesting, I think so.

I have been focused on looking up IBU alone before I buy now, and it seems to work most of the time but not always (essence of my question). Maybe I need to check ABV and IBU together? IOW, if the ABV is above average, it will take a higher IBU to reach my 'bitterness threshold.'

Forgive me if I'm off base, just trying to find a way to predict. I've bought too many 6-packs that I didn't care for, and I may be overlooking others I'd like because a moderately high IBU is scaring me off unnecessarily. However, I've seen a few at 80 and 100 IBU, yowza!
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Old 01-19-2012, 03:19 PM   #5
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Here's a resource that should help.
You can get a very good description of most beer styles at the beer judges' organization. If you know what style the beer is in, you can look it up and read about that style. If the description talks about balance, maltiness, or phrases like "enough malt to balance the hops," then you'll have somewhat of an idea whether it would suit you. These descriptions also include some examples of commercial beers to further define the style characteristics.

BJCP Style Guidelines
(Use the "click to get started" link on this page.)
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Old 01-19-2012, 03:25 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by braumeister View Post
Here's a resource that should help.
You can get a very good description of most beer styles at the beer judges' organization. If you know what style the beer is in, you can look it up and read about that style. If the description talks about balance, maltiness, or phrases like "enough malt to balance the hops," then you'll have somewhat of an idea whether it would suit you. These descriptions also include some examples of commercial beers to further define the style characteristics.

BJCP Style Guidelines
(Use the "click to get started" link on this page.)
That looks interesting and I will spend some time going through it, thanks. I have been using BeerAdvocate and RateBeer to date.

My favorite so far is a Saison, but they aren't common. I haven't had a Belgian Ale I haven't liked so far, and I like Guiness Draught in a pinch in a restaurant, very different and not a craft beer obviously. OTOH, I haven't had an IPA I liked yet. But I want to explore and find more styles, I was just trying to find a way to rule out some without buying a disappointing 6-pack. Learning...
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Old 01-19-2012, 04:22 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Midpack View Post
Interesting, I think so.

I have been focused on looking up IBU alone before I buy now, and it seems to work most of the time but not always (essence of my question). Maybe I need to check ABV and IBU together? IOW, if the ABV is above average, it will take a higher IBU to reach my 'bitterness threshold.'

Forgive me if I'm off base, just trying to find a way to predict. I've bought too many 6-packs that I didn't care for, and I may be overlooking others I'd like because a moderately high IBU is scaring me off unnecessarily. However, I've seen a few at 80 and 100 IBU, yowza!
First, braumeister covered it very well.

But the funny thing is you are not off-base at all. The beer-geek author Ray Daniels came up with something he calls a BU:GU ratio, which is bitterness units to Original Gravity units (which largely determines the alcohol content). So you are right on target.

Also, hops can be added at all points during the brew process. If they are boiled for ~ 60 ~90 minutes, the maximum of bitterness is obtained from the acid/oils in the hops, but most of the flavor and aroma are lost. Lower boiling times (or no boiling at all) will reduce how much bitterness is extracted, but you get increased flavor/aroma.

The IBU measures the bitterness from those acids/oils, so all that is taken into account in that number. However, flavor and aroma can affect our perception of tat bitterness, so as in most things like this, it gets rather subjective and this is where the 'art' comes in.

DW always told me she didn't like 'bitter' beers. But then she'd ask to taste what I was drinking or that I had brewed, and I'd say "OK, but you won't like it"- and she liked it. She seems to like some very bitter beers, if they also have a lot of flavor hops, not just bitter w/o hop flavor. But she doesn't like Amarillo hops (no Three Floyd's Gumball Head for her!).

One example of how maltiness affects that bitterness perception and balance. One of the guys in the club brewed an Octoberfest, a mildly high gravity/alcohol beer. He had problems and got a lot lower gravity than he expected, and although he knew better, he forgot and included the same amount of hops as the original recipe called for. Now, Octoberfests are not 'hoppy' beers, but this thing just tasted bitter with no balance. It really was 'harsh' and not pleasant to drink at all. He either ended up dumping it, or blending it with another brew.

-ERD50
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Old 01-19-2012, 04:28 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by ERD50 View Post
DW always told me she didn't like 'bitter' beers. But then she'd ask to taste what I was drinking or that I had brewed, and I'd say "OK, but you won't like it"- and she liked it. She seems to like some very bitter beers, if they also have a lot of flavor hops, not just bitter w/o hop flavor. But she doesn't like Amarillo hops (no Three Floyd's Gumball Head for her!).

-ERD50
First thanks for taking the time to explain further, I'm enjoying what I am learning here from you, Braumeister and others.

The section above just shows how much I have to learn. My favorite beer so far, Goose Island Sofie, uses Amarillo hops if I'm not mistaken, and it's not at all bitter or hoppy to me. Three Floyd's Gumballhead was just OK to me, but not anything like some of the really hoppy IPA's I've tried.
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Old 01-19-2012, 04:31 PM   #9
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I'm also not too fond of very "hoppy" and bitter beers, and I live in what seems like the mecca for hop heads.
Hops can have a lot of different flavors, from pine needles, to flowery, to citrus. Some are more bitter than others. I've found that I love the hops that are in German Lagers, but still don't like most of the hops that are used in Pale Ales and IPAs.
The malt balance also can make a huge difference. In general, West Coast IPAs are known for huge hop flavor, and less balance. East Coast IPAs are much more commonly well balanced and less bitter. I've found Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA to be quite pleasant even though it has a ton of hops, because it also has a great balance.
I've found the best way to get more experience with beers is to go to festivals or beer bars that will let you do tasters. Even with as little as 1oz of beer, you can get a really good idea if it's something you hate, or something you might want to try more of.

If you list out what you've liked and what you haven't, I'd be happy to try to suggest some beers. If you have any local liquor stores that have their stock listed on their website, I can even look to see what you can get out there.
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Old 01-19-2012, 04:55 PM   #10
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Here's my unscientific summary so far, though I am sure some were influenced by circumstances or what I might have been eating.

(1 = I like, 5 = I wanted to pour down the drain but I'm too cheap...)

 NameBrewer
1SofieGoose Island
2Coastal WheatSam Adams
2Wheat AleUpland Brewing
2OktoberfestUpland Brewing
2312 Urban Wheat AleGoose Island
2Irish Red AleSam Adams
2Guiness DraughtGuiness
2.5HennepinBrewery Ommegang
2.5Winter Abbey AleBlue Moon
2.5GumballheadThree Floyds
2.5MatildaGoose Island
2.5Pere JacquesGoose Island
3Robert the BruceThree Floyds
3Amber AleBells Brewery
3Alpha KingThree Floyds
4Jinx ProofThree Floyds
4Third Coast BeerBells Brewery
5Pepe NeroGoose Island
5Latitude 48 IPASam Adams
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Old 01-19-2012, 06:27 PM   #11
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Like you, I'm also not too fond of overly bitter-tasting beers. Up until about 2 years ago, I only stuck with Bud Light, and never really thought that beers were that different. (Hey, I never was a big beer drinker! ).

A few suggestions for you on avoiding the "now what do I do with these 5 other bottles of beer I'm stuck with that I don't like" syndrome:

---Many stores will allow you to do a 'build your own 6-pack'. They might not have a huge selection to choose from, but shop around! I found a local chain that has 3 locations which offers a pretty big selection of small breweries from across the country, and also allows you to do a mix-and-match. That way, you get to try 6 different beers in a 6-pack.

---Many stores will often have free beer sampling from time to time. What better way to try some new beer for FREE! And remember to check ALL of your grocery and liquor stores - you might think that a large grocery chain wouldn't bother with that, but some locations just might. Same for a chain that sells liquor only - they'll usually have some wine and/or beer sampling for free from time to time.

---Same idea as #2: if you go to a microbrew that has a restaurant/bar attached (or even a regular restaurant with a bar containing a decent draft selection) the bar tender will often let you try a small sample of one or two beers if you have absolutely no clue what you'd like to order. Or, building on that idea, the same microbrews sometimes have (free) brewery tours, which often conclude with the traditional (free) beer sampling.
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Old 01-20-2012, 09:00 AM   #12
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I enjoy hoppy beers, but it depends entirely on the hops used. I'm a big fan of the juicy, citrusy flavored hops. I find I like Simcoe based beers morethan the others.
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Old 01-20-2012, 01:32 PM   #13
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Some good craft brew websites:

BeerAdvocate - Respect Beer.

dingsbeerblog | Uncensored Beer Blogging & Reviews

thefullpint.com Beer News,Reviews, and Event Coverage

just a small sample as there are many, many sites.
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Old 01-24-2012, 07:34 PM   #14
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I looked through the beer lists for Three Floyds and Upland, and it looks like most of Three Floyds beers are going to be pretty hoppy (except for Dark Lord - if you can get it).

The Upland list looks like they'd have a lot more beers that could be up your alley. They even have a beer sorter on their website that arranges their beer by IBU. Other than the 6 highest, I'd recommend any of those beers, although I haven't had any of them.

There's a lot of beers that I like from Ommegang, but I think Hennepin is one of my least favorites. They have a lot of stuff that's a bit different, like their Chocolate Adoration, or their Three Philosophers that has some sourness.
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Old 01-25-2012, 06:28 PM   #15
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I enjoy hoppy beers, but it depends entirely on the hops used. I'm a big fan of the juicy, citrusy flavored hops. I find I like Simcoe based beers morethan the others.
+1 on the Simcoe. I just brewed a 90 minute red ipa with Simcoe in the boil for 90 minutes, Amarillo for 30, Cascade for 5, and Columbus for 0. Then dry-hopped with Simcoe, Amarillo, and Cascade. 80 Ibu's - very citrusy and delicious.
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