Gästartikel: Why count IBU's?

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Efter nästan tre år där allt material skrivits av en enda person kommer ni läsare nu att få ta del av gästartiklar här på Portersteken, med start här och nu. Under våren kommer nämligen Matt Williams att gästa Portersteken och bidra med några texter. Utöver sin egen blogg The Pilgrim & The Progress har Matt bland annat skrivit artiklar för Svenska Ölfrämjandets tidning Maltesen och bidragit till en omfattande ölguide till Skandianavien som ännu är opublicerad. Först ut på Portersteken är här hans artikel om meningen med IBU.

In the sense that it has its trends and latest fads, the world of beer seems very similar to the world of fashion. Whether it be using certain yeasts, or ageing beers in different kinds of barrels, what might be popular one year, might not be popular the following year.

One such trend seems to be to brew beers with a high amount of bitterness. This is sometimes even advertised on the packaging of the beer when it lists the International Bitterness Units (IBU).
Last year, I worked at the Stockholm Beer & Whisky Festival on behalf of a small Swedish brewery. It was my job to serve customers and talk about the beers I was serving. A useful piece of paper was handed to me and on this piece of paper was all of the information you could ever wish to know about the beers on offer. It listed the malt and hop varieties used as well as, yes, you’ve guessed it, the IBU count.

I lost count of the amount of times people came up to me and asked me about the IBU counts for the various beers that were on sale at the stand I was working on.  After being informed of the IBU count, many of the people then looked disappointed and walked away to try something different at another stand. I was even asked about the IBU count of porters and dark lagers, styles which are not really known for being particularly bitter.

I feel that it is useful to be able to look at the label and see the IBU count listed, but it doesn’t always give a true picture about how bitter the beer will taste. Imperial stouts, for example, sometimes have a high IBU count listed on the label, but the roasted qualities often dominate and negate the effects of the bitterness and the hops. This means that the IBU counts are more relevant for beers such as IPAs or  American pale ales, than they are for some darker beers where the bitterness can be less pronounced because it’s balanced with other strong and powerful flavours. A case in point being Black IPAs, with many admirers of this relatively ‘new’ style being fans of how the hoppiness combines nicely with the roasted and chocolatey notes of the dark malts.

I like all kinds of beers, including those with a high amount of bitterness, but I also like beers to be balanced. I know that there are numerous beers on the market purportedly having more than 1000 IBUs, but I have tasted a number of them, and they often didn’t taste as bitter as I was expecting them to be. In fact, I have to say that some of them were surprisingly well-balanced.

I visited a small beer festival in England a couple of years ago, and had the misfortune to try a beer which was then (not so sure about now) officially recognised as the world’s most bitter beer. It had the appearance of a milkshake and tasted truly horrific. Yes, it had a fairly nice aroma with some citrussy American hops being evident , but the taste was awful. It’s certainly a good idea to inform people about the amount of bitterness in any given beer, but let’s not turn it into a ‘my dad is bigger than your dad’ situation where bigger is often deemed to be better.

In short, I am definitely in favour of consumers being more informed and knowledgeable about the products they’re buying, but let’s not focus too much on one aspect of a beer. As my experiences have shown, a high IBU count doesn’t necessarily mean the beer will be balanced, and it certainly doesn’t mean the beer will taste good. Perhaps I should write a song about it and call it ‘Why Count IBUs! I’ve already got a melody in mind….. I wonder if it’s too late to enter the upcoming Eurovisions. After all, it is being held in Sweden, so I could save the BBC forking out for the airfares!

Denna artikel har tidigare även publicerats på The Pilgrim & The Progress. Framöver kommer dock endast tidigare opublicerat material från Matt att dyka upp i hans gästartiklar.

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