Why Testing Beer to Measure Its Bitterness is So Important

When first introduced to the product of the brewer’s art, many will tend to react by claiming it to be something of an acquired taste. After one or two additional tentative samplings, however, it is quite amazing just how many of these initial sceptics proceed to acquire a lifelong taste for beer, despite its characteristic bitterness which, in practice, is an intentional effect achieved through ingredients, treatments, and careful testing.

Formed by the action of yeast on a suitable source of starch, in most cases malted barley, after steeping in warm water, the starch undergoes decomposition to first produce the disaccharide maltose, and then glucose. Thereafter, a portion of the latter is fermented by other enzymes present, in order to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. The result is a sweetish beverage that lacks a great deal of flavour. Upon the addition of hops to the mix, it gains a number of desirable qualities. Among the most significant of these is the manner in which the underlying sweetness of beer is balanced by a degree of bitterness. That degree is determined by testing, and its value is characteristic of individual product types, such as ales, lagers, and porters.

In order to quantitate what might otherwise be a rather subjective measurement requires both a method of quantitative analysis, and a suitable unit of measurement with which to express the results. The unit in question is known as the IBU or International Bitterness Unit, and the various quantitation processes used for this purpose all rely upon measuring the quantity of iso-alpha acids present in the brew. In the case of a light lager, for instance, it may score in the region of 10 IBU, while some pale ales may score anything up to 100 IBU.

Beer bitterness testing is an important part of a brewer’s quality control programme, and essential to ensure a consistent product. As a specialist in the field of food testing, we offer a range of word-class reagents and equipment for this and for all quality control procedures relevant to the brewing industry.


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