ABV, IBU, SRM: 3 Need-To-Know Beer Acronyms
Don’t understand those acronyms and numbers on the side of your can? Here’s a quick lesson to get you in the know.
By The Beer Community on Mar. 22, 2016
The first thing you need to know is that those 3 words are acronyms. They stand for:
Now how do these numbers work and why are they important?
This number represents the percentage of alcohol in your beer. As a brewer, this number is important because specific styles need specific levels of alcohol, so you have to continually check the beer as it ferments to see how much sugar the yeast has converted into alcohol. Based on the result and the result you want to achieve you can tweak the batch, so it will come out just right.
As a beer enthusiast, this number is important because it helps you gauge your drinking. If you are going for a light alcohol kind of night you may choose a beer that ranges from 4%-6% ABV, but if you are interested in a heavy drinking kind of night (and we’d love it if you could do that responsibly), you may order something with a high ABV like doubles or imperials which can range from 7%-15%.
If you’d like to learn more specifics, the science and formulas about ABV check them out in our article “Beer Varieties: The Origins (Part Two: Gravity)“.
International Bitterness Units measure the amount of hop bitterness on a scale of 0 to 100 although lately some breweries are pushing back the frontiers and making beers with an IBU of more than 100. Technically the higher the number the more bitter the taste of the beer, but the taste will present differently depending on the balance between the hops and the malts. Malts offer a sweetness to the beer, so two beers may have the same IBU number, but one may taste sweeter if it has a more overarching malt character.
When exploring styles pay attention to the IBU and note how it changes the flavour of the beer. Then you can decide whether you are a hophead or a hop hater. You can read more about the effect of malts and hops on beers in our articles: Beer Styles: The Ingredients (Part One: Malt) and Beer Varieties: The Origins (Part Four: Bitterness)
This number represents the colour of your beer. SRM ranges from 2, being the lightest, palest yellow possible. Beers styles like Blonde and Pilseners fall into the lower categories up to 40 being dark beers like Porters and Stouts. Similar to IBUs, brewers are pushing the envelope and trying to make darker beers with numbers higher than 40. While it may be easy to make assumptions that a low SRM means a low ABV and a low IBU they have absolutely nothing to do with each other.
SRM has no flavour profile and is simply just the colour of the beer. Generally, the number has no bearing on a beer drinker because it does not give any representation of the beer’s flavour. Nobody really chooses which beer they drink based on the SRM. You may be tempted to say, “Well, I don’t like dark beers, so I won’t drink anything over 20 SRM,” but sometimes lighter-coloured beer styles can be made with a dark SRM ie: Black IPA and Black Kolsch. Why? Just to keep you guessing and keep those brewers challenged. Oh, these wacky brewers!
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