American Pale Ale

by: BeerAdvocate on 02-20-2002
Pale Ales come in two sub-styles, English or American. The two are brewed to similar specifications, however the American Pale Ale has definitely set itself apart from many of the traditional and standard flavours one might expect from English Pale Ales. Most pale ales coming from Great Britain run a medium to high hop bitterness, low to medium malt presence, some caramel, buttery and fruity flavours perhaps and no higher than around 5.5% alcohol by volume. American Pale Ales mostly impart a higher than normal hop bitterness, flavour and aroma. Hops can be on the coarse side even in the aroma; this is from the use of high alpha (bittering) hops. Flavours should be very clean in the mouth, with no traces of buttery diacetyl and minimal fruity esters. Alcohol content is roughly the same (not exceeding 5.5% abv), although some breweries think bigger is better and brew bigger pale ales that venture into the IPA (India Pale Ale) style territory. The color will range from rich golden colour, yet some breweries go as light as a pilsner, to amber and copper hues. The yeast employed helps to set this ale apart from English Pale Ales also. Typically it's an American strain, sometimes called Chico, which is very clean with a mild fruitiness to help accentuate the malt and hops.

This straying from the norm stems back to the grass roots of the micro revolution, wherein back in the 1980's several Midwest and West coast startups gave brewing a go. Ingredients were pretty limited compared to today, so they formulated their recipes from mostly domestic hops and malt. Perhaps the most well known American Pale Ale is Sierra Nevada Pale Ale from Sierra Nevada Brewing in Chico, CA, who started back in 1981 with a goal to brew American beer with more flavour than the usual dull American Lagers that were available at the time. They've been doing a stellar job since. SNPA has been available in the Boston area for a long time and it seems that in the past few years it has planted a really strong foot hold on the market, especially on tap. Even your average corner Bud-Miller-Coors package store will carry SNPA due to its popularity.

Another popular American Pale Ale, and perhaps the granddaddy of them all, is Liberty Ale by Anchor Brewing Co. in San Francisco, CA. It was first brewed on April 18th, 1975 the 200th anniversary of Paul Revere's historic ride. Many believe Anchor to be the brewery that kicked off the micro beer revolution here in America, and also that Liberty Ale is the benchmark American Pale Ale.

Let's take a look at some flavour profiles for some of the more obtainable American Pale Ales:

Blue Heron Pale Ale (Mendocino Brewing, Saratoga Springs, NY) - Raw hops and fresh milled grain in the aroma with a heavy mix of floral, spicy and citric hop that lays on top of a mouthful of grain. 6.1% abv.

Catamount Pale Ale (Harpoon Brewery, Windsor, VT) - A very drinkable brew with a biscuity graininess, followed by a fruity citric and floral hop flavour with a great balance between the two.

Concord Pale Ale (Concord Junction Brewing Co, Concord, MA) -- American Pale Ale all the way, certainly one of the more outstanding picks for the style in New England. This beer is what American micro is all about.

Fenway Pale Ale (Boston Beer Works, Boston, MA) - Clean and crisp with an assertive hop bitterness, then citric flavours pull into the middle to back push far into the finish. Malt sweetness battles the hops though seems to end up rounding everything out.

Liberty Ale (Anchor Brewing Co, San Francisco, CA) - A very raw aromatic beer with hints of passion fruit in the nose, and flavours range from grainy to pungent bitter hops to apricot to tea-like fruitiness. West coast hops all the way! The quintessential American Pale Ale. 5.9% abv.

Michelob Pale Ale (Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis, MO) - Basically a stripped down version of the style, with a nice clean aroma from the dryhopping but the body and flavour is too thin. 5.2% abv.

Ottercreek Pale Ale (Ottercreek Brewing, Middlebury, VT) - A fairly decent example of the American Pale Ale style, with a pungent and fragrant hop aroma, and a raw oily hop flavour / tidy maltiness. 4.6% abv.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Chico, CA) - Surpassed the cult classic image and is now seen in nearly every half decent beer store. Trademark Cascade hop flavour with its citrus overtones and crisp pale maltiness are what makes this beer great. 5.6% abv.

Tall Tale Pale Ale (Cambridge Brewing, Cambridge, MA) - Very big and malty with a strong armed hop character, citric hop bitterness with flavours of grapefruit rind and the malt is big enough to match. 5.9% abv.
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