Water, hops, yeast, and malt are the same components in all beers; therefore, determining whether a beer is hoppy or bitter merely depends on how and when the hops are introduced.
Beers can taste differently depending on whether they are bitter or hop-forward. A beer is said to be “hoppy” if you can taste or smell the flavor of the hops in it. Depending on the type of hops used, the flavor may be fruity, piney, citrusy, or floral. Beer that is bitter tastes, well, bitter!
We will have a better understanding of how hops are used by brewers to create tastes and how hops’ varied amounts of acid production during fermentation impart bitterness to beer. So let’s open a cold one and get started now!
Hoppy Vs. Bitter Beer – The Role They Play In Brewing Beer
The usage of the hop plant for fermentation is assumed to have begun in medieval Germany and expanded throughout Europe from there. The hop plant is said to have originated in Ancient Egypt where it was used as a salad plant.
While hops are an ingredient in all beers, how they are handled by the brewer and the type of hops they use can decide how bitter or hoppy your favorite beer tastes. In essence, there is no such thing as a “hoppy” or “bitter” beer; rather, the flavor and fragrance of a beer are determined by the brewing process.
The hops are added to the wort during the boiling stage of the process, and the heat encourages the release of an acid called isohulumone, which gives the hot drink a bitter taste.
Without hops, your beer would taste rather sweet (yuck! ), and the amount and kind of hops used will determine how bitter the beer is.
In essence, hops are what give your favorite beer its distinctive flavor and fragrance by striking the perfect balance between the sweet and the bitter.
The Taste Differences Between Bitter and Hoppy Beer
Let’s examine the characteristics of “hoppy” and “bitter” beers in order to better understand the distinctions between the two types of beer.
Let’s start with bitter beer first, and one factor to take into account is how each individual perceives bitterness.
It could be more accurate to define a bitter beer as one that lacks a certain taste, such as you might find in beers to which flavored hops have been added to give a particular flavor.
Keep in mind that the addition of hops is what gives beer its bitter flavor. However, the amount of the acid isohumulone that accumulates in the brew and WHEN the hops were added both affect the flavor of the beer.
Let’s look at the worldwide scale that is used to assess beer’s bitterness. Beer should have some bitterness since it balances out the flavor of the grain.
The International Bitterness Scale (IBU) For Beer
As you may recall, isohumulone, the acid generated by the hops during the brewing process, is measured using this well-accepted worldwide scale.
The scale has a zero starting point and goes up from there. A beer would be deemed bitter if it had an IBU rating of 60 or higher, and very bitter if it had an IBU rating of 80 or more.
A beer with less bitterness and hence more flavor from the hops would be at level 60 and heading down to the 40s or below.
The link between IBU and Alcohol By Volume (ABV) will also affect how bitter the beer is perceived to be and how bitter it actually is, so there is a catch to this.
Bitter vs. Hoppy Beer: The Relationship Between IBU And ABV
As many beer aficionados are aware, beer is a genuinely magical beverage, but the actual magic comes in the chemistry of the malts and hops. A beer with more malt and often more alcohol by volume (ABV) would taste more bitter than one with less ABV and more IBU.
For instance, a beer with an IBU of 50 and a 5% ABV may taste just as harsh as one with an IBU of 80 and an 8% ABV!
On the other hand, a beer with an IBU rating of 40 and an alcohol by volume (ABV) of 3% or 4% would likely taste more bitter than one with 60 and an ABV of 8%.
In addition to this feature of bitterness, keep in mind that each person has a unique bitter flavor. Since everyone’s palate interprets flavor and bitterness differently, what may be bitter to you may not be to someone else.
Most stout beers with significantly higher malt content aren’t bitter at all, and as a general rule, more malt will result in a higher ABV, which more effectively counteracts the bitterness.
ABV and IBU levels should be taken into account when evaluating beers, but the simplest method to determine whether a beer is bitter is to just drink it!
Bitter vs. Hoppy Beer: How Hops Affect Flavor
Hops are cultivated all over the world, and the flavor and bitterness of the resulting beer depend on the hops’ geographic origin.
The great thing about this amazing plant is that it can generate a wide range of tastes, which provides burgeoning craft beer producers a ton of room to explore and create flavor profiles that are fresh and intriguing.
Brewers use a variety of techniques to lessen the bitterness that hops normally impart, including adding them considerably later than typical in the brewing process. This stops isohumulone from being infused into the drink and just adds the flavor of the hops.
It is the result of the hops when a beer has pronounced earthy, citrus, or floral fragrances; nevertheless, just because you can smell certain flavors does not imply that the beer is bitter. In actuality, you would probably prefer sweet beers to bitter ones.
Although the true test for hoppy vs. bitter beer is always in the mouth, you now understand how the ABV/IBU equation affects flavor and have a method to estimate the degree of bitterness or flavor in the beer before you taste it.
But as it has been for centuries, the best way to taste the beer is to sip it and enjoy it, preferably with friends, and trying a variety so you can figure out which kind of beer, whether bitter or hoppy or both, you like most!