Like everything else, science has defined the bitterness of beer, just as it has defined other aspects of brew, such as color. Unscientifically, however, the beauty of beer is in the eye (or in this case, the tongue) of the beholder. No scientific data will change the bitter fact . . . a lot of hops in a light lager will have more bite to it than the same measure of hops in a sweet malty porter.
Brewing scientists have developed a unit of measure called the International Bitterness Unit (IBU) which measures the bitterness in beer. It is based on a mathematical formula of interest to homebrewers and brewmasters who use it to decide how much hops to add to a brew in order to attain the desired level of bitterness, while avoiding the dreaded Tongue Pucker syndrome. It is the alpha acid (bittering agent) in the hops that is the culprit.
For those of us who don’t home brew, but do enjoy beer, it’s simply a matter of taste. Mass-produced American Pilsners have about 5 to 15 IBUs. Bohemian lagers, as a rule, measure about 25 to 30 IBUs. Noticeably bitter beers weight in in the 30 to 50 range, while over-the-top strong beers will bite your tongue to the tune of 50 to 90 IBUs!
The brainchild of a not-too-swift advertising campaign person, “Bitter” is also a term used to describe England’s most popular beer style. While “Bitter” is not exactly an appealing name for a commercial product, keep in mind that hops are good bitters. Enjoy a little bitterness, compliments of your favoriteBeer of the Month Club.