International Juiciness Units? How to Express "Hoppiness"
Hops. Hop hops hops. I've been pondering them a lot lately, and just to tease me further, Fullsteam tweets out this:
I wrote that treatise on "hoppiness" a couple years ago, promising myself to eventually crack a related communications nut. Let's mention the problem first. We have this very specific number, international bitterness units (IBU), that is invaluable to brewers. It expresses the amount of bittering compounds in a beer. A brewer understands its utility and limitations. All hopped beers have a certain amount of bitterness, and brewers want to be able to measure it to bring their beers into balance.
The problem is that it has several notable limits, particularly for the consumer. For one, it does not tell you how bitter a beer will taste. The same IBUs in a barleywine and pilsner will have very different perceived bitterness. There's an additional issue about whether the brewery has actually measured the IBUs or run the numbers through a computer algorithm; in the latter case, the number is at best a guesstimate.
The worst part, though, is that we use IBUs as a shorthand for "hoppiness," but this is misleading--particularly given the way American beers now taste. I'll pull a graph from that original post to illustrate:
Now that we've entered the IPA epoch, we know that flavor and aroma, not just bitterness, are equal partners in this hoppiness equation. Indeed, in many cases bitterness is a junior member of the club. "Hoppiness" could thus more accurately be rendered thus:
All of that is the factual background, but my question comes back around to the communications piece--trying to express "hoppiness" meaningfully for consumers. Drinkers been trained to ask that question thanks to the use of IBUs, but IBUs are incomplete. To the extent they tell us anything at all, it's probably going to be misinterpreted by consumers. Take, for instance these beers, thinking about the element of "hoppiness."
- Pale ale
- New England IPA
- Irish stout
- English IPA
You could encounter all of these styles in a brewery's taproom and learn that they each have 40 IBUs. What would that tell you? Is there a way to talk about hoppiness that makes sense of how that 40 IBUs will taste to consumers? I think we're stuck with IBUs, and maybe that's not a terrible thing. But it should be used to specifically identify bitterness and only bitterness. What about the flavor and aroma? Could we come up with a "juiciness" index? Say, "International Juiciness Units" (IJU), which would capture the flavor and aroma impact on a 100-point scale? Something like:
- Pale ale, 5.2%, 40 IBU, 50 IJU
- New England IPA, 6.5%, 40 IBU, 90 IJU
- Pilsner, 5.0%, 40 IBU, 10 IJU
- Irish stout, 4.5%, 40 IBU, 0 IJU
- English IPA, 5.3%, 40 IBU, 25 IJU
- Altbier, 4.9%, 40 IBU, 7 IJU
But of course, that would require a way to measure it. How do you measure flavor and aroma?--and even if you could, how would the average between them work? Anyone out there have a juice-o-meter? (In the cider world, cidermakers describe their beers on a continuum of sweetness, but since there's not actual empirical measurement, they all base it on their own preferences. So a dry French cider is sweeter than a "sweet" English one.)
And what do we do about thiols?
Man, this nut is really hard to crack.