Most folks that brew tend to get stuck on IBUs when talking about bitterness in a beer. That's fine but ultimately what really counts is the balance of IBUs (international bittering units) to the gravity of the beer. I guarantee that thinking in terms of balance will improve ALL of your recipes after reading this article. So how do you create a homebrew recipe with balanced bitterness?

First start with the style you are shooting for (pale, IPA, barley wine, brown ale, etc). Once you have a style in mind go try to find some good examples of the style. I like to use the book Clone Brews by Tess and Mark Szamatulski. It's got a great collection of beers and most importantly, they aren't all super obscure so chances are you can find them in your area. For a more theoretical approach check out the book Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels. It gives a great run down of American, English, and German styles. Each section shows the main components of the style and gives some pointers on how to brew them.

Once you have the style squared away it's time to create a bitterness ratio. The bitterness ratio is a simple equation: IBU / gravity points. You can calculate the IBUs using a program like proMash or you can use the online calculator Beer Calculus. Either way you need to find a calculator because the equation is complex and depends on hops along with the gravity of the beer. The gravity points are just the specific gravity - 1 * 1000.1 (so a SG of 1.060 becomes 60 points). I've gotten into the habit of saying the gravity of my beer in points rather than the SG because it sounds cooler (my beer has 100 points! Wow!!). The goal is to create an IBU to gravity points ratio that is comparable to the style you want to brew. For example: In my next brew I want to make a saison. Clone Brews lists the IBUs and SG of Saison Dupont as 25 and 1.064 respectively. 25 divided by 64 equals 0.39. Personally I'd like to lower the gravity a bit because last time I brewed it I drank waaaaaayyyy too much on account of the tastyness. The next morning however was not so tasty. I'm going to back the recipe down to 55 points (1.050 SG). This means I'll need only 21 IBUs. To find out what that means for my recipe I'll get out a homebrew calculator like the ones I mentioned earlier and play with the recipe until it's just right.