Hoppy Vs Bitter: Understanding The Difference – Craft Beer Joe

When it comes to craft beer, there are lots of flavors and aromas to be enjoyed. Along with the wide variety of tastes and smells comes just as many ways to describe them. However, all too often the same words are used over and over. One specific term that is over used is hoppy. Most use this term to point to the bitterness of a beer. Let’s compare hoppy vs bitter to see if these terms are being used correctly and how we can better our vocabulary and expand our thinking.

And while much of this topic is centered around the IPA, these terms apply to many other beer styles. But let’s start with the “hoppiest” beer style; the IPA.

The India Pale Ale (IPA) has done amazing things for the craft beer industry. It is by far the most popular style and in many ways has paved the way for the explosion of new breweries and beers.

But this style has also led to a lot of confusion and misunderstanding. Any beer that has a hop forward profile is often referred to as some variation of IPA. There’s a whole topic about what an IPA once was and what it has become but that’s for another time.

For now, we are going to compare the two terms used most often to describe the IPA: Hoppy Vs Bitter.

In taprooms all over the country, there’s someone saying that they “don’t like hoppy beers”. But they probably mean that they don’t like beer that allows for a strong bitterness. This misuse has led to a great misunderstanding that all craft beer is by default hoppy and therefore bitter.

But the topic isn’t limited to IPAs because all beers have hops; however, it is impossible to look past the fact that this is the style that most think of when using these terms.

So while the IPA has increased awareness for strong flavored craft beer, it’s also creating a lot of confusion about what hops do to a beer.

This is by no means a lesson in how to brew beer or the science behind hops but it is important to acknowledge a few key factors.

1: All Beers Have Hops

Hops are one of the four basic ingredients of beer. So even a beer that doesn’t taste “hoppy” still has hops in it.

2: Hops Provide Balance

Read more: What does it mean if your pulse is low

Without hops, beer would be overly sweet. It is the balance between bitterness and sweetness that most seek in a quality beer.

3: Hops Add Bitterness

Yes, hops provide the bittering element to beer but the level of bitter can range dramatically depending on the type of hop, amount used, and how it is ued.

4: Hops Have A Lot More To Offer

Outside of bitterness, hops have a lot of additional qualities they add to beer like aroma, flavor, and they are a preservative.

Tips For Brewing Beer At Home

This all brings us to our main topic; Hoppy Vs Bitter. What is the difference and does it matter?

These terms are often used interchangeably but the reality is beer is best described when they are defined apart from each other.


A hoppy beer showcases the hop flavor and aroma of the hops.

Hops can do amazing things to beer. From fuity to piney to earthy to floral, hops can provide a huge range of flavor. These flavors are often tied to the geographic region that they are grown.

In many cases, hops will be used to provide bitterness and in the case of IPAs it often adds a lot of bitterness. But it isn’t necessarily connected. In fact, with the rise of the New England IPA, bitterness is becoming less connected to hops than ever before.

This is because brewers are intentionally using brewing methods that prevent hops from adding bitterness. They add the hops late in the brewing process where the hops only add flavor and aroma.

Read more: What does it mean when you blood pressure is low

Modern beers are known for exhibiting huge amounts of flavor from the hops while keeping the bitterness so low that it is often undetectable. Some would even argue that it has gone too far and these beers would be better if the hops, bitterness, and malt sweetness were in better balance.

So hoppy just means you can taste and/or smell the characteristics of the hops which can be fruity, earthy, citric, floral, piney, etc based on the type of hop. It does not always mean that the beer is bitter.


Do you remember the “bitter beer” commercials? That guy with his puckered lips and scrunched up face all caused from his beer being too bitter.

These ads taught a generation that beer should not have any perceivable bitterness but craft beer has helped correct that misnomer.

But many still shy away from beers with any level of bitterness and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. However, most find a moderate bitterness can actually be quite enjoyable.

And since years went by with commercials telling us bitterness is bad, we also determined that the term bitter shouldn’t be used to describe our beer. So we’ve defaulted to saying hoppy.

Beer can and often should be bitter. It is the bitterness that offsets the sweet grain flavors of beer. However, it’s important to also realize that bitterness has a huge range that should be understood.

International Bitterness Units (IBUs) is the scale used to measure the bitterness of a beer. It measures the isohumulone in a beer – this is an acid imparted from the hops.

The scale starts at zero and the higher it goes, the more isohumulone that is present in the beer. Most consider a beer with over 80 IBUs to be on the higher end of the scale.

But let’s slow down, just because a beer has a high IBU, doesn’t mean it will be bitter. Confused yet?

That is because we must consider relative and perceived bitterness.

Relative & Perceived Bitterness

While it would seem that a beer with higher IBUs would be more bitter than one with lower IBUs; that’s not always the case.

Read more: FASCIA – What It Is and Why It Matters. A New Book by David Lesondak

That is where the magic of beer can occur. The malts used in beer are the counterpart to bitterness. So if a beer has a lot of malts (probably higher ABV), then it can balance out a higher level of IBUs.

For example, a beer that has 60 IBUs and is 6% ABV will taste about as bitter as a 90 IBU beer with 9% ABV.

In addition, a beer with 40 IBUs and 3% ABV will taste more bitter than a beer with 60 IBUs and 8% ABV.

This is often seen in stouts (which uses more malt than many other styles) can have IBUs that are 60 or higher and have nearly no bitterness.

The IBUs always must be considered as a relative factor compared to the other elements of the beer. It can be viewed like this; more malt = higher ABV = greater ability to balance bitterness. This is a very simplified view that won’t apply to every beer but it’s a good place to start.

The other factor is perceived bitterness – aka how bitter the beer actually tastes. And these is impacted by each person’s ability to taste and handle bitterness.

The lesson here is we can’t judge a beer based on the IBU level alone. It takes understanding a lot more about the beer to give an estimated guess on how bitter it will taste. The only true proof of bitterness is to actually drink it and judge for yourself.

Check out this video from my friends at Higher Gravity as they explain Relative Bitterness and why high IBUs shouldn’t scare you away from trying a beer. It will increase your knowledge of hoppy vs bitter.

Want to learn more about the IPA?

Check out my article comparing the IPA and Pale Ale

When it comes to craft beer, there will always be styles that you prefer over others. However, that shouldn’t stop you from continuing to experiment and try different versions of the same style. It is the best way to learn and expand what you enjoy drinking.

When it comes to the topic of hoppy vs bitter; try to understand the terms and how they apply to what you are drinking. All beers contain hops but what they do to the beer can be dramatically different.

While it will add bitterness, how much is variable. And beyond that hops can add amazing flavors to the beer that can’t be found anywhere else. Embrace learning hop varieties and the unique characteristics they tend to bring to a beer.

If we all embrace using hoppy vs bitter in more useful ways then we can ensure that future beer drinkers won’t be afraid of hoppy or bitter beers.

Do You Like Bitter IPAs Or Do You Prefer Low Bitterness, Hop Forward Beers?

Content Creator Zaid Butt joined Silsala-e-Azeemia in 2004 as student of spirituality. Mr. Zahid Butt is an IT professional, his expertise include “Web/Graphic Designer, GUI, Visualizer and Web Developer” PH: +92-3217244554

Related Posts

What Is an MBA Degree? MBA Programs and What MBA Stands For

What Is an MBA Degree? MBA Programs and What MBA Stands For

· MBA stands for Master of Business Administration. First introduced by Harvard University Graduate School of Administration in 1908 (now Harvard 

Diclofenac – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf

Diclofenac – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf

· Diclofenac is a medication used in the management and treatment of inflammatory conditions and pain. It is in the class of non-steroidal 

What are the most common types of felonies and their penalties?

What are the most common types of felonies and their penalties?

A felony is a crime of high seriousness, compared to less serious misdemeanor offenses. In the United States, felonies are generally crimes that have a 

Stem Player: everything you need to know about Kanye West’s portable music player | What Hi-Fi?

Stem Player: everything you need to know about Kanye West’s portable music player | What Hi-Fi?

· The Stem Player is a pebble-sized MP3 player that doubles as a portable remixer. That means that as well as loading it up with your own tracks, 

What To Do When Your Car Overheats | Jiffy Lube

What To Do When Your Car Overheats | Jiffy Lube

Here are four of the signs: A strange, sweet smell coming from the engine area (this could be the scent of leaking radiator fluid, otherwise known as coolant 

Impact of Family Engagement | Youth.gov

Impact of Family Engagement | Youth.gov

Family engagement in schools contributes to positive student outcomes, including improved child and student achievement, decreased disciplinary issues, improved