why is beer bitter?

I’m particularly sensitive to bitter tastes, I think, and never cared for beer until I discovered Belgian whites and wheat beers. My nephew is the same way, and tonight we were discussing why brewers ever thought the bitter hops aftertaste was desirable. My vague theory was that it gave a better mouthfeel or aftertaste in the days when refrigerated beer (and sweet drinks) were much less common. Why deliberately make a beverage a little bitter?

Some people like the taste. Aside from that, hops were used as a preservative in olden times when nothing more effective was available.

Bitter isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If it were, we wouldn’t all have a fifteen year old bottle of Angostura Bitters sitting in our liquor cabinet, ready to be handed down to our heirs when we die without quite finishing it.

Coffee, tea, beer… I like these drinks because they are all a little bitter.

coffee and tea are tasty DESPITE their bitterness to me. Same with beer. The lighter and less bitter the beer, the better.

And I like my tea without sugar or cream.

I have no idea why people consider bitterness a desirable quality in beverages. You certainly don’t hear people talking about how a given meal would be better if it were just a bit more bitter. (at least I don’t)

I agree that I like the bitterness of beer, but given the number of people who don’t and the fact that at least one national brand had a major advertising campaign based on being the least bitter, I’m surprised no one has tried to make a non-hopped beer. A beer that lacked some bittering or flavoring agent might be unpalatable (I’m not sure) but there are lots of spices that were used before hops became universal. A few beers (wheat beers especially) use coriander or other flavors, but almost always with hops as well. There must be whole dimensions of beer flavor that have gone unexplored, even among craft brewers!

Because it caught its wife cheating with ale.

In terms of beer, doppelbocks aren’t that bitter. Neither are Russian Imperial Stouts. They’re both quite smooth … but watch the ABV content or you’ll get drunk a lot quicker than you would with your typical mass-produced American lager.

But if you lose the light bitterness from coffee or tea, then it’s not really coffee or tea any more, is it? Then it’s water! If you like tea, you like a bitter drink. Yes, it’s only lightly bitter, but that’s what tea tastes like. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you truly didn’t like the bitterness at all, you’d drink water, or you’d add milk and/or sugar to your tea.

And there are certainly bitter foods that people like. Vegetables such as aparagus, radishes, spinach and other leafy greens… these are all a little bitter. Some spices (bay leaves, rosemary) have a slight bitterness to them.

Bitterness, in moderation, is not an unpleasant taste. The exact same can be said for salt, sour, and sweet.

As for bitter drinks? They can provide a nice contrast to a salty or sweet food. Beer is great with steak, or wings, or pizza. Coffee goes nice with a big slice of cake, or strudel, or a donut.

Yeah, but most of those gruit ales were bitter too or worse, toxic - henbane and wormwood, for instance.

Most people like the balance a bit of hoppy bitterness gives to beer. I had one hop-free beer at the Gingerman & found it utterly bland. It wasn’t one of the witbiers, which can be quite tasty–but which are often served with orange or lemon. That “balance” thing again…

IPA’s have become quite popular & some brewers go for “hoppier than thou.” I quite like a good IPA but some are too bitter for me.

Investigate International Bitterness Unit or European Bitterness Unit ratings. There are hundreds of beers, ales, etc., out there–so there’s something for every taste. Or every mood.

Here’s an interesting article

I’m with the OP on this one. Local micros tend to go overboard on the hops and make it undrinkable for me. On the other hand, beers like Bud, Coors, etc are a non-starter. I usually buy lager or hefeweizen.

Kneel before Zod!

Hops are why beer exists in the first place. Sorta like how lobster exists only as a clarified-butter delivery device.

You can make alcoholic malt beverages without hops. They have names like “Smirnoff Ice” and “Four Loko.”

This. Without something to counter the sweetness from the malt, you get a cloying, unpleasant mess.

I agree that the race to find the absolute pinnacle of alpha-acid solubility has become tiresome, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the occasional hop bomb (I’m looking at you Bell’s Two-Hearted).

There’s obviously a market for cloyingly sweet alcoholic beverages without hops. There is also a large and growing market for craft beverages–even craft sodas are taking off. There should logically be a market for unhopped beer.

Plus, hops have a very distinct taste that some people, who like coffee and chocolate, find unpalatable. Why not create beers with other flavors that balance the sweetness of the malt?

Lots of old beer recipes contained flavoring and preservative agents other than hops. Hops just worked well.

There are plenty of modern beers that use milder hops and/or only a little bit of hops, and some that use other flavors. You just have to keep drinking to find them. Good article:


In sum, my advice is the same as usual - drink heavily.

I also don’t like the bitterness of beer and coffee, and mildly dislike the bitterness of tea enough that I prefer it weak.

But sometimes I do like a little bitterness in my food. Occasionally I will add broccoli to my food to give it a needed bitterness (stir fry for example).

#1 - that does not follow.

#2 - Fuck 'em. If you want sweet, drink a rum & coke. If you don’t like beer that tastes like beer, drink Belgian or Bud.

if it didn’t taste bitter then everyone would drink it.