Bitterness in beer

Do beer afficianados consider bitterness in beer a good thing?

Is the bitterness a product of hops?

Are there some styles of beer that are "smoother" than others?

On a side note... doing some Xmas shopping Sunday, and stopped in at World Market. I saw that they offered beer by the bottle. I bought a Great Lakes Brewery Burning River Ale, and a Anchor Steam Beer.

The Burning River was (you guessed it) a little bitter for me.

I'm drinking the Anchor right now, and it's pretty damn good! Smooth... very subtle flavors. Wich I had another one in the fridge!


I find bitterness a personal taste thing. I do believe that the bitterness is determined by hops, but I'm no brewer.

Different beer styles, like wine, have different flavour profiles. Hopw are the main bittering component, though there are a few other non-conventional ingredients used for bitterness as well. What is it you like in a beer? What flavours are you looking for? Let us know and then someone here will help you. Jonwell, Meathook, Ali and a few others know the beers in the US really well. They are a wealth of information but they are going to need some input from you to assist you more.

Further to that check out some of the beer threads here and even on the Cigars, Beer and Poker ground(older threads so you might have to search)

For beer style info, go here


Yes bitterness is caused largely by hops. Why?


Hops contains resin which contains alpha and beta acids- alpha acids are the source of bitterness, beta acids do some other things.

When alpha acid is boiled, it is isomerized and rendered soluble in water. This takes a while, so bitterness is gained in beer by adding some hops at the beginning of the boil.

There are several different alpha acids- cohumulone, adhumulone, posthumulone, and a couple I can't remember. Anecdotally, the level of some alpha acids compared to some others changes the quality of the bitterness, but some studies have shown no effect, so that's up in the air.

Alpha acids are also bacteriacidal to gram positive bacteria, which promotes the success of yeast over, say, lactobacillus bacteria, which is bad. They also promote head retention and lacing.

Hops may also have some other stuff aside from the acids that add to flavor and bitterness, the jury is still awaiting research there.

The oils found in hops are responsible for the aroma quality, which varies depending on the variety of the hop.

So, what's all this mean, why am I talking about it, and what does it have to do with your question?

No idea. Moving right along.

Bitterness is good or bad depending on the style. In an IPA it's good because the beer is focused on hops, and would be boring in their absence. In a scotch ale bitterness is only there to counteract the sweetness of the malt, which is the main focus of the style.

People often times mistake other kinds of bitterness as hop bitterness. "Bitter beer face" is a good example, because the kind of beer that does this to people barely has any hop bitterness to it at all. Bitterness can also be created by cheap/poor ingredients, and bad brewing practices. These bitter off flavors are generally quite harsh, sharp, and astringent.

A lot of people 'in the know' will also be quick to quote IBU numbers. IBU is a rating of how bitter a beer is. Well, it's not really. IBU, like horsepower, is a mathematical derivation coming from several factors, and ignoring many more. All an IBU rating can tell you is its IBU rating (and even less occasionally, since there are at least 3 different equations for determining IBU). Stone can take that and suck on it.

You can compare two beers with identical IBU ratings and one can seem much more or less bitter than the other. Why? Good question. Not sure I know. So many things go into the overall flavor of beer that its hard to pin on one thing. The hop variety, freshness, boil time, amount, combined with the water chemistry, equipment, process, playing off the other ingredients, aging time, serving temperature, all the way down to an individual's taste determine the flavor you get.

So, if you like really bitter stuff, cool. Drink it. If you don't, drink other styles.

See, I told you they were champs. LOL


keystone markets itself as never being bitter

therefore if keystone = not bitter

bitter = good

certain top fermenting hops were orginally used used as a preservative for ales, and now brewed in this style for taste, as mentioned above IPA is an example,

i grown several styles of hops

Different kinds of hops will have different degrees of bitterness, how it's processed (when thrown into the boil, how dried, etc) will impart different degrees of bitterness. This is stuff jonwell knows way more about than I do.... but even with hoppy beers the 'bitter flavor' varies, not just the degree of bitterness.

I think you can still compare beers within a brewery with IBU ratings to some effect. Lagunitas' "Red Eye" comes in a 22 oz bomber or a 6-pack; for some unknown reason the IBU rating of the 6-pack is almost twice as high as the bomber; you can bet this will be a more bitter beer. (Keeping Stone out of it for this example, because I don't want to trigger jonwell's Alesmith reflex!)

Note that what the English call "bitter" beer is very mild compared to -- especially -- West Coast USA beers. Even the "Extra Strong Bitter" or "Extra Special Bitter" is not a very bitter beer compared to IPAs. It seems many American craft brewers are not as interested in 'balance' as older-world brewers, but more in aggressive hops.

My impression is that even within the U.S., the East Coast breweries tend to be somewhat less hop-crazed. Some exceptions to this exist, I'm sure.

If you just don't like bitter, get yourself some decent Wee Heavy or Scottish Ale. Or that almost tasteless Sapporo Reserve lager.

Go to 2 Giant Eggs link, learn a bit more about various styles, then go back to World Market and buy a selection of singles.

Not exactly sure what you mean by 'smoother', but I had a bottle of Gouden Carolus Noel last week and that was incredibly smooth.

Bigwilly- hops don't ferment, dude :P

Ali- funny thing, "bitters" are not intended to be bitter in the normal sense. Bitter was the popular nomenclature that punters used to distinguish pale ales from porters and milds, which are (or were) quite sweet. It's a very balanced style compared to American beers, only bitter compared to its 18th century contemporaries.

Other styles where hops are not prevalent: Oktoberfest, marzen, porter, mild, the bitter series, scottish ales (fun naming system there), the darker belgian styles, most wheat beers, vienna lager... probly a couple I'm forgetting.

ALi: I mention stone in that context because they use the IBU rating of Ruination as a sales pitch, which annoys me.

Yes -- I know about "Bitters" -- just thought it stood pointing out because of the question. English IPAs are still generally nothing compared to California IPAs in terms of bitterness.... they like "well balanced" idea more than our breweries in general.

And yeah, I was just teasing you about the Stone/AleSmith thing. If I really didn't want it to come up, I would have just left it with the Lagunitas example and not said another word!

:P I love Lagunitas btw. Great brewery.

Thanks for the feedback.... much appreciated.

I had already visited the beer advocate style section several times prior to my post. It gives info about specific beers. I was hoping to find something more vague... general (average?) characteristics of a lager vs an ale.... a English ale vs an American ale, etc...

Dos gigante juevos...

"What is it you like in a beer?"

Generally speaking... taste. Not really looking for some exotic flavored beer. I didn't even know beer had caramel, or citrus, or pine needle or other flavors three weeks ago. And, I view any bitterness as undesirable.

Sorry this is kinda new to me, and I find it hard to put some of this into words.



Kevin- tastes can be acquired, if you're interested. It does pay off in the long run. Start with a mildly, but cleanly, bitter beer like Sierra Nevada. From there, you can scale the glorious heights of hopheadness like many of our other illustrious forum members.

The very best style guide (imo) and definitely the most detailed is that published by the Beer Judge Certification Program, which can be found...


Oh there's lot's of jargon but I'd be happy to translate it for you if you want.

Bigwilly- hops don't ferment

correct, yeast does, but hops are frequently added during the "top fermenting process" my bad

(double post)

Jonwell has given a nice link. I gave the beeradvocate link because if you click on the style it will list beers in that style. You can then go and read other people's opinion on the beer. The depth of knowledge of each of the posters varies from neophyte to Jonwell type guru.

Enjoy the journey into beer; you'll have a lot of fun along the way.

"correct, yeast does, but hops are frequently added during the "top fermenting process" my bad"

Yar, dry hopping, tis true.

My guruness is only middling, by comparison, btw :P

Found this guide...

A General IBU Guide:


Pale Ale / Amber Ale ? 20-50 IBU

India Pale Ale ? 40-60 IBU (this would have quite a bitter bite)

ESB, aka Extra Special Bitters ? 28-40 IBU

English Brown Ale ? 20 IBU

Porter ? 20-40 IBU

Irish Stout ? 30-60 IBU (can be quite bitter, depending on signature)

Barleywine ? 50-100 IBU (power punch!)


American Pale Lager ? 10-15 IBU

Pilsner ? 25-45 IBU

Bock ? 20-30 IBU