I’m making my own recipes as I go along, and I usually only learn what I have done after the fact – after I have made the beer, tasted and then tried to recreate it – that is when I try to understand what and how to make it better. In my recent checks on my latest beers I did some IBU calculations using Brewer’s Friend IBU Calculator – and I was shocked!
My latest beers, mainly the Pale Ale in all its various forms, have reached outrageous levels of bitterness and that explains the harshness of the beers, the bitterness and the fact that everyone around was just being nice while trying to mask the twitches they has when tasting some of the beers. But before I go over the beers a little, here is a quick intro to IBU:
IBU – International Bittering Units
IBU is a measuring scale that describes the bitterness level of a beer as a result from the acidity levels that are found in hops. Hops have two acids: alpha and beta, where the betas have very little effect on beer, alpha acids have antibacterial effect on beer while not harming beer yeasts, an excellent combination to keep beer from contamination. Alpha acids also release bitter flavours when boiled, giving beer its distinct flavour.
Over the years, different beer styles (and palates) started favouring higher bitterness which had previously only been needed for the alpha acids levels that would provide the dicontamination of the beer. As alpha acids increased, a scale was created in the form of EBU (European Bittering Units), while IBU was created in the USA. There is a slight difference in measuring IBU vs EBU, but it results in very minor differences. IBUs are measured with a spectrometer (the most accurate way) or by using a formula to find the right level:
*Formula image from Beer Wikia.
My favourite way to find the IBU is by feeding all the numbers in this great calculator by Brewers’ Friend: IBU Claculator. Just type in the numbers and get the IBU.
IBU levels for common styles
IBU usually ranges from around 5 (light lagers) to about 100 (barley wine), with some breweries having special releases or experiments reaching hundreds or even thousands IBU. Usually the high IBU beers will have very high alcohol levels to try and balance those bitterness levels.
Typical IBU levels of the beer styles that I make:
American style pale ale: 30-50
English IPA: 40-60
American IPA: 40-70
Witbier (wheat beer): 10-20
Black Ale: 50-70 (based on the craftbeer.com site)
The full list is much longer, as long as the list of styles out there, so you can just check this list on Brewer’s Friend.
So what about my beers?
Well, as I wrote at the beginning, my beers have been very, very bitter lately, so I ran all the numbers in the calculator to learn this:
Coffee Porter (actually coffee black ale) – 75.4, should be up to 50
American style Pale Ale – 150 (!!), should be 30-50
Black Ale attempt (actually a mild) – 120, usually 10-25, or 50-70 for the black ale I was trying to make
Black Ale (LME) – 48.7, the only one that fits the style guide and is my most successful beer
Wheat Beer – 57, much higher than the 10-20 I should be aiming for
Low gravity Pale Ale – the highest of them all at 173 due to the lower alcohol levels, far cry from 30-50 IBU
American style IPA – 200 (!), high even for the loony American styles, should probably be half that
Black Wheat Beer – 57.8, not very high but pretty high for a black wheat (20-30)
As you can see, my enthusiasm for hops have completely ruined my beers, rendering them a bit over the top. I’ll be trying to redo those recipes but cutting the bittering hops levels to achieve more reasonable IBU while keeping the same flavour and aroma.