Surprisingly, choosing the right beer for an occasion isn’t always the easiest decision. When given the choice between a craft brew, domestic beer and an imported beer, the sheer number of choices can be both exciting and intimidating. It isn’t uncommon for people to ask themselves, what IS a craft brew? Or what is the difference between a craft brew, a domestic beer and an imported beer? How do ABV, IBU’s and SRM come into play and how can they help me in selecting the right beer for me? We have answers!
A domestic beer is the most common beer you’ll find in America. It is made in much larger batches than craft beer when brewed. Many times, when you go to a bar for happy hour you will see domestic beers at a special price. Budweiser, for example, is a major domestic brewery. Anheuser-Busch produces millions of barrels of beer a year; 40 million of which are Budweiser alone. All domestic beers are made in the United States.
An import beer is simply any beer that is not crafted in the United States.
A craft brew is a term used by many brewers to describe a modern style of beer in cask, keg or bottle. Craft beer has grown in popularity in the past decade, giving brewers creative license to produce new and innovative styles. The more traditional styles of craft include IPA, Pale Ale, Porter & Stout.
When it comes to categorizing beer whether it be a domestic beer, import beer or craft brew, there are three quantitative measures that can be utilized. These are IBU, ABV and SRM. IBU and ABV are almost always listed on a bottle’s label and are great tools to use when choosing the right beer for you. I’ll go into detail about what each acronym means below.
IBU– “International Bittering Units” measures, you got it, the bitterness of the beer. The bitterness comes from the hops used during the brewing process. Beers generally range from 0 IBU to 100 IBU; 100 IBU having the most bitter taste. Here is a general guide to understanding the scale. This can help you choose your beer if you have a general idea of how much bitterness you can stand. (Next time you try a bottle or can of beer you enjoy, check the label for the IBU percentage so you know around what number your taste preference falls near.)
ABV– “Alcohol by Volume” is an indicator of how strong a beer is, or more specifically, the entire volume of the liquid that is alcohol. The percentage you see on bottles lets you know how much of your beer is alcohol and how much of it is other ingredients, such as water, barley and hops. Beer can range anywhere from 2% to 12% ABV, though you’ll generally find it in the 4%-6% range. Below is an easy-to-reference chart to help your understanding.
Image: Unknown Source
SRM – “Standard Reference Method” is a measurement system that identifies the intensity of beer color. The higher the number, the darker the beer. It’s the water, hops, malted grain and yeast that all work together to brew a perfect beer. But when it comes down to the color of the beer, the malted grain is what has the most significant effect on it. The color you see is due to the chemical reactions of the malted barley. It’s important to note that any color of beer can be any ABV, beer color does not affect the alcohol content of the beverage. But knowing the SRM of beers can tell you the category the beer falls under, for example a pale straw color of beer would be categorized as a Pilsner. See charts below for more examples.
While domestic beers, import beers and craft brews all are different by definition, they are all categorized by the same three quantitative measures. IBU judges the bitterness of the beer, ABV measures the volume of alcohol and SRM identifies the intensity of beer color. Hopefully this post will help you next time you’re buying beer for any sort of occasion. Remember to note the IBU of a beer you enjoy, that way you can reference the IBU of other beers when shopping for the right selection! Another important note, color can hint you towards the right taste but does not necessarily indicate the ABV of the beer. So, it’s important to always look at the actual strength or alcohol content when selecting a type of brew. If you’re still in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask someone! While everyone has different taste, they can steer you in the right direction of how bitter a beer is or simply find something relative to the flavor you’re looking for. There’s always a beer for every occasion and, following our quick guide, you’re bound to find something that works for you. Good luck and remember to drink responsibly! Cheers!
Written By: Aubree Winkles, Stein Employee