Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Beer Style Breakdown 101: American Pale Ale

 Oh beautiful
for hoppy beers
for amber malts and grains...

Ahh yes.  The good, 'ol American pale ale.

When Mike and I first started dating in 2004, we used to drink at this one local brewpub.  I didn't know the first thing about beer back then, therefore my selection relied solely on the descriptions given for each one.  "Pale Ale" sounded safe.  My assumption was, "Well, it's pale which equates to light in flavor which means it probably tastes like all of those other 'macro' beers I've had."  Familiar = comforting.

So I ordered the Pale Ale.  I took a sip...and was so confused.

It was bitter.  It was a rich, amber color and not the usual watery yellow.  But the most surprising thing of all?  It had flavor.  Actual flavor.  Flavors I couldn't pinpoint then but that were undoubtedly there.

As I continued to learn more about different styles, I knew one thing was for sure:  if I wanted something with bite, something hoppy, I just needed to look for the words "Pale Ale" printed on the label.  

For today's demonstration, we'll be pouring my favorite pale ale, Lagunitas New Dogtown.

Style:  American Pale Ale
Country of Origin:  US, based on traditional British pale ales

Pale ales are gold to rich amber in color, have great clarity and a noticeable bitterness to them.  While British pale ales tend to be more malty (think caramel) and velvety, the American versions are usually more crisp and possess either citrusy or piney notes - both being common traits of American hops.

You'll hear "citrus" and "pine" used a lot in reference to pale ale varieties.  Really try to keep that in mind next time you drink a hoppy ale.  It'll create a much stronger connection between the beer and your tastebuds.  Obvious, I know, but often overlooked.

A pale ale is the perfect starter if you want to experiment with hoppier beers (Sierra Nevada's is one of the most common and is available at your local grocery store.)  You may have seen India Pale Ales (IPAs) or Double/Imperial IPAs on the shelves of your local wine/beer store.  These are beefed-up versions of a standard pale ale:  more hops, more malt and almost always a higher percentage of alcohol.  We'll chat about the styles another week - both are worthy of their own post.  I know Mike (as well as some of our hardcore beer friends) would agree.

So go forth, hop heads and hop novices alike!  Find one that harmonizes with your palate and, most importantly, don't be afraid to let it punch you in the mouth.

Happy sipping.


  1. So, when's the last time you went to Sweetwater anyway? =)

  2. :D You know what's up.

    I haven't been in a lonnnng time but wouldn't mind going back when they release their pumpkin ale. Nyum.

  3. Makes me wish I were a drinker.

  4. Margie, we could feed a family of cats in a third-world country with the amount of money spent on beer, if that's any consolation.

  5. The Sierra Nevada one is definitely great, I think Stone brewing co also has a good pale ale. Check it out! :)

  6. Hi Cilantropist! I saw that you're from San Diego - lucky gal. Stone gets a lot of love at home. My man and I took a trip to the brewery for his bday last year...incredible.

    Those CA breweries really know what's up.

  7. Mmmm, I likey some Dogtown. Didn't I try my first Dogtown at the Caps vs. Panthers hockey game?

  8. Thanks for a great beer review. Hard day at the office having to review beers? I am sure you have jobs and this is your down time, but wouldn't it be the best job?