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Understanding ABV and IBU Scales for Craft Beer

By now you’ve taken our online brewery tour and know where to get the finest craft beer in the Ocean City area.  You’ve also read through our beer style guide and understand the differences between the major types of brews.  The next step is to head to the nearest brewery and start tasting.  As you’re looking over the options listed on menu on the tasting room chalkboard, you will encounter the abbreviations of ABV and IBU followed by numbers accompanying each beer selection.  This information helps explain beer in greater detail and helps you understand what you are about to drink before you drink it.  While centuries of brewing and decades of scientific study have gone into the formation of the ABV and IBU scales, we think it’s more fun to drink beer than attempt to understand it.  Here is a brief explanation to give you the basics of each, in layman’s terms, so you can spend less time reading and more time drinking.

ABV, or alcohol by volume, is the standard measurement, used worldwide, to assess the strength of a particular beer.  The ABV scale is simple in the fact that the higher the ABV, the more alcohol that beer contains.  Lighter beers range from 4-4.5% ABV, with percentages getting higher with heavier styles of beer.

IBU, or international bittering unit, is a less discernable abbreviation that is as, if not more, important when it comes to selecting the type of beer that is right for you.  The IBU scale measures the bitterness levels in beer (based on the amount of hops added) and helps beer drinkers determine which styles of brews are ideal for their taste buds.  This scale can be tricky, however, because higher IBU levels do not always equate to bitterer flavor. The following graph (brought to you by BrewersFriend.com) details the average IBU range for the most popular styles of beer and will help guide your beer tasting process.

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