October 23, 2018

Beer Style Guide - Pale Ales

Well-balanced as to be very drinkable, but flavorful enough to hold the interest; pale ales are among the most popular beers for homebrewers, and it’s easy to see why. On the surface they are simple, but one could spend a lifetime just brewing and drinking pale ales. The style was created after the invention of the pale malt, similar to how an even lighter colored malt helped create the Pilsner style on the continent. Just as Pale Ale helped launch classic British breweries like Bass into fame and longevity, a new American type of pale ale helped launch the craft beer revolution in the US.

British Bitters - Bitters are the elegant session beers of England. Despite the name they are not particularly bitter, but rather exhibit a fine balance between toasty, nutty malt flavor and hop bitterness. There are three levels of bitters. The ordinary or standard bitter is low gravity with a more delicate flavor and ranges from 3-3.7% in alcohol. The best or special bitter is 3.8-4.6% and a bit darker than an ordinary bitter. The Strong or Extra Special Bitter (or ESB) is 4.8-5.8% and is more commonly found in the US. British bitters may have a bit of hop character, but it stays in balance. Occasionally plain sugar or an adjunct like maize or flaked barley is used. A good British yeast is a must; their subtle flavor contributions make all the difference.

British Pale Ale - The British Pale Ale is fairly similar to an ESB, but with more focus on the hops. It is quite related to, and partially descended from, the India Pale Ale style, but now has a lower gravity and hopping level than normally found in an IPA. This makes it still very drinkable as a session beer. The British Pale Ale is closely associated with the breweries of Burton-on-Trent, whose unusually hard water combined with the hoppiness of Pale Ale proved a winning combination. The British style of pale ale may involve dry hopping and often has earthy, floral, or slightly citrusy flavors from British hops.

American Pale Ale - For most American craft breweries the pale ale is the flagship beer, the one that people will think of and drink the most. The same could be said for the house beers of many homebrewers. A good pale ale is enjoyable year-round, at nearly all occasions a beer is called for. The American style was pioneered by early craft breweries like Sierra Nevada. It ups the level of the hops and usually uses American varieties. Classic American hops like Cascade and Centennial provide a more citrusy hop bite, supported by varying amounts of caramel malt.