Hoppy Vs. Bitter Beer

hoppy vs bitter beer

All beer is made from the same ingredients: water, hops, yeast, and malt, so in terms of hoppy vs. bitter, it is simply a measure of how and when the hops are added to the beer to produce the hoppy or bitter flavor.

The difference between hoppy and bitter beer is all about the taste! A hoppy beer means you can taste or smell the flavor of the hops in the beer, which can be fruity, pine, citrus, or flower, depending on the hops used. Bitter beer simply tastes bitter!

We will better understand how brewers use hops to produce the flavors and how the acid produced by hops during the fermentation process adds bitterness to the beer in varying degrees. So let’s crack a cold one and jump right in!

Hoppy Vs. Bitter Beer – The Role They Play In Brewing Beer

The hop plant is thought to have originated in Ancient Egypt and was used then as a salad plant, while its use in fermentation is believed to have started in medieval Germany and spread across Europe from there.

All beers have hops, but it is the way the brewer uses this plant and the type of hop that is used that determines the bitterness or the hoppy flavor you enjoy in your favorite beer. In essence, there is no such thing as a ‘hoppy’ or ‘bitter’ beer, but only how the beer has been brewed affects the final flavor and aroma.

At the boiling stage of the process, the hops are added to the wort, and the heat promotes the release of an acid called Isohulumone, which adds a bitter flavor to the hot brew.

Hops are there to provide bitterness; this will vary depending on the type and quantity of hops used, and without them, your beer would taste quite sweet (yuck)!

Hops are the balance between the sweet and the bitter and contribute different aromatic and taste components to your beer – they are, in essence, what creates the beer you love!

Hoppy Vs. Bitter Beer – The Taste Differences

In considering the differences between the hoppy and bitter-tasting beer, let’s look at what you could expect from a beer that is ‘hoppy’ and one that is ‘bitter.’

Let’s start with the bitter beer first, and one element to consider is the perception of bitterness as it varies from person to person.

It may be more apt to describe a bitter beer as one that does not have a particular and distinctive flavor as you would find where flavored hops have been added to produce s specific flavor.

Remember that the bitterness in beer results from the hops being added. Still, the flavor of the beer from the hops is relative to WHEN the hops were added and how much of the acid isohumulone is accumulated in the brew.

Beer should have some degree of bitterness as this offsets the grain influence in the beer’s flavor, so let’s look at the international scale used to measure beer’s bitterness.

The International Bitterness Scale (IBU) For Beer

This is the recognized international scale used to measure the levels of isohumulone in beer, and as you recall, this is the acid released by the hops during the brewing process.

The scale starts at zero and increases from there. A beer with an IBU rating of 60 or above would indicate a bitter beer, while beers measuring 80 on the IBU scale or higher would be considered very bitter.

At level 60 and getting down to the 40s or lower would indicate a beer with less bitterness and, therefore, more flavor imparted from the hops.

But, there is a catch here, too, and that is the relationship between IBU and Alcohol By Volume (ABV) will also influence the beer’s perceived bitterness and relative bitterness.

Hoppy Vs. Bitter Beer – The IBU And ABV Relationship

Beer is a truly magical substance (as we beer drinkers all know), but in the chemistry of malts and hops lies some real magic. A beer with a higher malt content and usually a higher ABV content would taste more bitter than one with a lower ABV and higher IBU.

For example, if we have a beer with an IBU of 50 and 5% ABV, this could taste as bitter as an IBU of 80 and 8% ABV!

Conversely, a beer with a 3% or 4% ABV and an IBU rating of 40 would probably taste more bitter than one with 60 IBU’s and an 8% ABV.

Aside from this aspect of bitterness, you should remember that everyone tastes bitterness differently. What may be bitter for you may not be for someone else as the palette perceives flavor and bitterness individually.

Stout beers with far more malt content are usually not bitter at all and as a general rule, you can say that more malt will give you a higher ABV, which balances the bitterness to a greater degree.

When looking at beers, consider the ABV and the IBU content – but the best way to find out if the beer is bitter is just to drink it!

Hoppy Vs. Bitter Beer – The Effect Of Hops On Flavor

Hops are grown all over the world, and their geographical location determines the impact they will have on the beer’s flavor and bitterness.

The beauty about this fantastic plant is that it can provide a wide variety of flavors, which gives the emerging craft beer makers huge scope to experiment and produce new and exciting flavors in their brews.

One of the ways that brewers reduce the impact of bitterness that the hops would usually add is to introduce the hops into the brewing process much later than usual. This prevents the infusion of isohumulone and delivers only the hops flavor into the brew.

Where you have a beer that has distinct earthy, citrus, or floral aromas, this is the effect of the hops, and because you can smell those does not mean that the beer is bitter. Truth be told, you would likely find these types of beer more sweet than bitter.


When it comes to hoppy vs. bitter beer, the actual test is always in the taste, but now you know the effect that the ABV / IBU equation has on the flavor and a way to gauge the level of bitterness or flavor in the beer before you sample it.

But, as has been the case for centuries, the natural way to experience beer is to drink it and enjoy it, preferably with friends and try different ones, so you can discover what type of beer you enjoy most, whether bitter or hoppy or both!


Dan Specht

Dan has been homebrewing beer for 8 years and holds a level 2 certifiication as a Cicerone.

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