Introduction to Craft Beers Part 7 – IBU and ABV

For the final part of this series on craft beer basics, I thought I would explain some common acronyms. You commonly see IBU and ABV listed on the menu but you might have been embarrassed to ask what they meant.

Why do breweries list ABV on the boards?
ABV stands for alcohol by volume and sometimes you will just see a percentage of alcohol listed. Though technically not all beers need to display the percentage of alcohol, and thus the mainstream brewers don’t bother to post it, it helps you as the consumer to understand something about the beer before ordering it.

Though higher alcohol content does not always equal better flavor, it tends to lead to bolder flavors. It also makes a big difference typically in the thickness of the beers, with beers over 8% typically tasting quite a bit thicker. Once you become familiar with a style of beer, then it tells you quite a bit about a stout to see that it is 5% vs 12%.

It is also important for you to pay attention so you can try to keep track of how much you are drinking. Gone are the days when you can simply count the beers. You will typically see beers with higher alcohol content served in smaller glasses because that helps reduce the amount of alcohol in one serving. If you drive to the brewery be especially careful to limit your intake so you don’t drink and drive. Most breweries will serve you beer to go in a growler so you can finish enjoying your favorite beer at home without getting into an accident or getting pulled over. When I take friends out to visit breweries, I like to bring home a growler so that I can drink when I get home.

Why do breweries list IBU? What is that?
Not all breweries list IBU but many do because it gives you a lot of information that you might not realize. IBU stands for International Bitterness Units and it is an easy way to check that the beer you are ordering is not going to be too bitter for your tastes. Some smooth light porters might list an IBU of around 30, sometimes even lower. This is typically a level at which the average drinker probably won’t notice any bitterness at all.

At the middle end, a lot of IPAs and pale ales come in at around 50-60 IBU. This might be too much for some people but it is still in the middle range and a hop head might demand even more. Imperial IPAs and sometimes extra strong stouts can be from 80-120 IBUs. These beers are going to be noticeably bitter and are not good to try for your first time. You can see for yourself if bitterness is something you like as you drink more beer. I tend to enjoy beers at all levels of the scale but I do have a soft spot for the seriously bitter brews.

I hope you learned a lot about beer in this educational series. You should now be able to recognize the differences between the different styles of beers. Slowly you will start to differentiate between malt and hop flavors in your favorite beers.

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is a craft beer enthusiast. He likes to travel with his husband and enjoy the great outdoors. In his day job, Paul is a divorce attorney focusing on serving the San Diego LGBT community.

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