a few years ago, maybe five, perhaps six, or four, or any other number, I had a chat in my second home with Dave Unpro of Steel City Brewing. I was asking his advice on what IBU, apart from International Bitterness (or ing) Units, actually meant. I have had a drink since then, and so can't really remember much of the outcome of this discourse but I think it was similar to wind chill in that the bitterness measured in IBUs is how you perceive its level but is different to the actual level. Or it could be none of these. These are guessesmories after all. And I have had a drink since then. Did I mention I'd had a drink sine then?
Back in 2012 Unpro and Arbor Ales had collaborated to brew a 666 IBU beer at 6.66%. I even wrote about it, here. I was very impressed by the beer and pleases at how easy it was to drink. I also mentioned that BrewDog Hardcore IPA had an IBU of 150 but Punk IPA, which I had loved when I first tried it, was only 40. This may be where my reliance on IBU as a sign of quality started to waiver.
Earlier this year I tried Northern Monk Infinity Vortex, a 6.4% or similar IPA which I absolutely loved. Checking their (or another's) website I was surprised to note that the IBU of this beer was only 25. Since the beer was double dry hopped I couldn't work out why it hadn't been higher, and also why I had still loved the brew. Did IBU still matter to me?
The answer to the question in the title incidentally is simply that it seemed to be a good indicator of good beer. And as the below highlights that is not necessarily the case.
Evidence it doesn't equate also came from my love of Verdant beers. I saw an interview with them earlier this year where they said the biggest surprise to them had been just how sweet people liked their beer. Pah! I retorted. I don't like sweet beer, yuk! But actually, having last night tried even sharks need water from the same, it was described more like a can of sweets than an IPA, and once more I glugged it down like it was...well, manna from heaven is a slightly unfortunate comparison, but certainly it was a fab concoction. Incidentally, I can't find details of this beer's IBU. And Untapped states No IBU.....
Its interesting to see how my tastes have developed over time, I now prefer a colder cloudier beer than I did 5 years or more ago, and am much less interested in hop bite, although that always tickles my tonsils when its a feature. I don't actually think that the reduced prominence of IBU in beer is a sign of taste changing however, instead its as much a miscomprehension on my part, the idea that high IBU equaled high enjoyment.
In looking at the details of the malts and yeasts used in Cloudwater Verdant and Northern Monk beers I am more clear now on what I think are the many parts that make a good beer. Flaked oats and London Ale yeast are just two ingredients that feature regularly in beers I love and contribute to a smoother and easier drinking beer. I don't think this reduces the hop or bitterness tastes in the beers, I just think it makes the palate more open to subtleties otherwise unnoticed in the beer.
Ironically therefore, am not considering the level of IBU in a beer but loving the dry hopping rate. So if anything IBU as a measurement is just a distraction from my primary consideration of whether or not I like a beer or not, that being just exactly that. IPAs have a lot t answer for it seems!