HopSkulls Guide: What is IBU + Evaluation of The Bitter Bundle!

Hi fellow beer lovers!

Some of you guys might already know what IBU stands for, and some of you might not – to put it simple IBU stands for “International Bitterness units” which is at technical term that refer to the bitterness of a beer.

The bitterness in a beer is measured in IBU, which tells about how many parts per million of Iso-alpha acids there are found in the specific beer. The thing is hop cones produce a powder called lupulin, which contain certain acids - one of them being alpha acid.

The process in bittering a beer is quite simple! The acid found in hops, are released from the hops during to boil of the beer – This process is called isomerization. When bittering a beer the normal boil is around a 60-minute boil, this way an approximately 75% of the hops' alpha acids are converted into iso-alpha acids which give beer its bitter finish. If hops are only boiled for 15 minutes, only around 35% their alpha acids converted into iso-alpha acids and so on!

IBU is a term, which is fairly important to know if you ask me! Knowing the term also helps you towards seeking out, or keeping away from beer styles, which you might or might not like. The only flaw about the IBU scale is, that it fails to take into account any other bittering agents like coffee, cinnamon, black malts and herbal spicy notes – make sure to also take this into account when selecting beer! But if you only want to look on the Iso-alpha acid content, the IBU scale is the way to go!

Back in the day when I embarked on my craftbeer adventure I found high bitterness beers way to over the top, and I kept way from them – since then I have really grown a big love towards them! Back then I stuck to only choosing low bitterness beers, and slowly worked my taste buds up the IBU ladder.  

Before heading on, I’ll quickly have to point out, that a beer can be measured having around 70 IBUs but if that beer contains significant ”malt melanoidins” or hop polyphenols, the beer will have a perceived bitterness lower than 70 IBUs. So don’t just write off all high bitterness beers, as they might in fact taste really great!

To put the above written into simplicity - this means that a lot of hops were used to offset the sweetness of a malty/sweet beer = Balance Things out!

Little side note, a beer with 20 IBUs and a minimal malty/sweet character may have seam significantly more bitter, than a beer with 60 IBUs and a powerful malt profile, Balance is the key.

Fun fact! Around 75 percent of us humans detecting bitterness, 25 percent of us do not register the bitterness – so some of us aren’t even affected by higher levels of bitterness.

For you ”crafters, craft people, crafter beer adventures” I have for the sake of simplicity, made a IBU Scale chart which shows the different levels of IBU for the most common beer styles – hopefully this tool can help you, and make the IBU scaling a little more approachable. Here you go!

 IBU scale

Don’t like bitter beer? Maybe you just have to learn to love it?

Recently I’ve done a post on my Instagram regarding why we humans often dislike bitter beers, and how you should not write of every type of bitter beer!

A bitter beer like an IPA ranges from low to high – and there is in fact a reason why you might not like a bitter beer! The whole thing is rooted in a combination of human instinct, DNA and learned behavior that determents if you love or hate bitter beers!

A major characteristic of IPAs is bitterness, and Mikkeller recently made three beers, which is somewhat an educational series, and I was lucky to get this particular series in the most recent Mikkeller Beer Club Box!

I’m of course talking about ”The Bitter Bundle”, and things like that bundle is right up my ally – education about beer is what I love, so of course I had to write an article about IBU, and at the same time review ”The bitter bundle”! The Bundle contains three TIPAs (Triple India Pale Ales) with a bittering level of o IBU, 1000 IBU and 3000 IBU.

This bundle really showcases the importance of having bitterness in a beer, and yes the IBU is way over the top! Mikkeller is know for crazy stuff – A bundle like this, might be the right thing to push you in the direction of loving bitter beer? - lets just jump in!

 Evaluation of bitter bundle

Mikkeller: 0 IBU

 0 IBU

Is a 12 % ABV 0 IBU, India Pale ale – Triple Style

The color is a slightly hazy golden / cobber. It pours a small white head, it falls to a thin lacing.

The Aroma is quite malt forward, showcasing caramel, bread and cereals. It has a faint scent of pine, grapefruit zest and orange peel. Relatively quite boozy, almost has a barley wine character.

The taste is really malty, boozy, and has some faint traces of hoppy juicy notes. Just like the aroma, you’ll get the malt up front, backed up by some subtle hoppy notes – most prominent is the grapefruit note, but a somewhat note of honey comes forth but quickly snaps over in a boozy’ness.

The finish is a boozy sweet finish, it has a non-to low bitterness, and it has a medium carbonation, with a medium to high mouthfeel/body

Conclusion at the end of the article - Next up!

Mikkeller: 1000 IBU

 1000 IBU

Is a 12 % ABV 1000 IBU, India Pale ale – Triple Style

The color is a clear golden / cobber color. It pours a small white head, it falls to a thin lacing.

The Aroma has quit strong! A concoction of malt and hops comes forth, bringing quite an array of aromas – malty caramel, hoppy vibes of tropical fruits and bubblegum, but also pine and resinous notes together with some floral bitter vibe. The ABV is quite prominent.

The taste starts with tropical fruits, but snaps towards some pine and resin notes. The most prominent flavor is grapefruit and orange, with some zest and peel. Towards the end you’ll also get some bitter flower petals and again quite a lot of alcohol.

The finish is a sweet off-dry finish, it has a high bitterness, and it has a medium carbonation, with a full mouthfeel/body

Conclusion at the end of the article - Next up!

Mikkeller: 3000 IBU

 3000 IBU

Is a 15,5 % ABV 1000 IBU, India Pale ale – Triple Style

The color is a clear golden / cobber color. It pours a small white head, it falls to a thin lacing.

The Aroma is actually quit sweet, with notes of malt, dried fruits and tropical fruits – most prominent are grapefruit and orange. The alcohol seems a little more hidden, and not that intense as on the 0 and 1000 IBU variant.

The taste… BOOM! Intense! but not as bitter as i thought! This is actually quite sweet with traces of sugar, caramel, sweet bread and cereal. The hops for sure are present, showcasing citrus and tropical fruits – once again the grapefruit and orange is upfront, but a hint of tart berries comes forth towards the end. The alcohol is there, but this well incorporated.

The finish is a sweet slightly off-dry finish, it has a high bitterness, It has a medium carbonation, with a full mouthfeel/body


Ok, time to conclude this blog entry!

I hope that this article has shifted your thoughts and approach towards bitter beers – Bitter isn’t bad, its there because it creates balance to a beer. I understand if you’re keeping the bitter styles at bay, if you once experienced to have your palette wrecked by a somewhat high bitterness beer. Maybe you could start at the bottom and work your way up the IBU scale, one beer at a time and hopefully end up loving IBU – if you have tried that, and ended up not liking bitter beer, you could always check out some hoppy less bitter beers like New England IPAs, which showcase all the juice qualities of hops and not the bitterness.

What goes for the “The Bitter Bundle” and my thoughts? Overall - Not bad, but it’s not exactly what I want my DIPA’s to be like. Approaching like they where Barley wines and on the verge of being too sweet and unbalanced. The funniest thing about these beers was that the 3000 IBU one seemed to be the most balanced “IPA’ish” and drinkable – they aren’t beers ill have again, but as an educational input they are really great!

Mikkeller specifically stated that “The Bitter Bundle” is meant to educate and show how an extreme beer can be, and also be a somewhat drinkable and enjoyable one. Even they where 0 IBU, 1000 IBU, and 3000 IBU, the beers are mere experiments and fun creations. The scientists and doctors say that the human taste palette can't detect IBU beyond 100 or so – if that is real? I don’t know? If you want to take on a statement like this, here is your chance!

I hope you enjoyed this article, and learn a thing or two!

 The end IBU

Till next time, yours truly – HopSkull out.