IBU's not the bitter end on taste
We had an epiphany the other night at The Tap in Haverhill, regarding the relationship between ibu's and bitterness.
One would think that there would be a direct correlation between the ibu count and the bitter profile of the beer and, for the most part, you'd be right. However, the ibu's don't tell us the whole story. Case in point, the Leatherlips IPA that is brewed by The Tap.
Touted as a brew for serious hopheads only, we expected that it would have an extremely high ibu count. For those not certain of what I speak, ibu stands for International Bitterness Units, and is a unit of measure for determining the bitterness in a beer. Upon our examination of the beers statistics, we realized that it only had 50 ibu's. For a basis of comparison, both the Redhook and Harpoon IPA's have ibu's around 45-50, and both have a relatively smooth finish that is not overly biting. Needless to say, we were a little skeptical that the Leatherlips was going to be anything more than a mild IPA.
This was not the case. Due to a lack of a significant malt profile to balance out the hops, and despite the relatively low ibu's for this style of beer, the hops jump out of this beer with gusto, seemingly screaming "Hey, you better not overlook us!". The style was much more like a West Coast IPA, or a Double IPA, where the hop profile is put on display, as compared to an East Coast IPA (see Redhook and Harpoon) which is much more balanced. As such, Leatherlips, and other beers that do not have a significant malt presence, come across as extremely hoppy and bitter in their taste, despite not immediately displaying themselves as such when examining their numbers.
Again, to re-emphasize the point, while ibu's will tell a lot about a beer, they aren't the end-all-be-all as it relates to bitterness. In fact, you could argue that the malts have as much to do with the bitterness as the hops do, although in an inverse relationship.