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Monday, January 21, 2013

Pale Ales

The BOTB Guys take on Pale Ales (and a few tunes)

We have never dedicated a BOTB meeting to Pale Ales. Ron pointed this out and I found it so hard to believe that I sifted through every blog post since we started this club back in 2008. And he is correct (Oh me of little faith!). We have done IPAs, ESBs, Porters, and Stouts; Autumn Ales, Summer Ales, Winters and Springs; Oktoberfests, Bocks, Reds and Ryes - but not Pale Ales! Wow! Now, we have included Pales in our reviews of Boat Beers, Lawnmower Beers, Session Beers and when we've reviewed various breweries. But we have never dedicated an entire meeting to these terrific brews.

So we finally decided to right this wrong. It is the American Pale Ale that was the earliest style to break away from the light lager lockdown that held sway over US beer drinkers (Sierra Nevada or Anchor Brewing, depending on how you look at it).What we decided to do was to choose Pale Ales we had not reviewed in some other context - not an easy task. Luckily, Ron did a little blog research and sent us all a list of the beers to avoid. What makes a Pale Ale a Pale Ale? We'll get to that later.

But first...

Sherman on the Mount

From The Daily Alta California, March 8, 1876:

                    -To make Lager Bier - Take a barrel, fill it with
        rain water, put in one pair of old boots, a head 
        of last fall's cabbage, two short sixes, a sprig of
        wormwood,and a little yeast.
Let it work,
And when clear,
You'll have excellent
Lager Bier. 


We have a tendency to look down our collective BOTB noses at lagers, and that isn't really completely fair. Lagers can be hoppy and they can be malty. Lager is not a style, it merely refers to the process of brewing. There can be light lagers and black lagers. Bock Beers are lagers. The difference between lagers and ales is one of complexity in taste. Ales tend to be the more complex of the two. To quickly recap the difference between lagers and ales: lagers use a yeast which ferments at a lower temperature than ales. Because they ferment at a lower temperature, lagers derive less of their flavor from the yeast than do ales. The yeast used in ales can impart flavors that range from spicy to bready to banana-like. Depending on the ale and the strain of yeast, these flavors will be more or less prominent, but the presence gives ales a fuller flavor, often described as complex. Lagers are more likely to be described as crisp with a cleaner finish. Pilsners are Lagers and Victory's Prima Pils is a great example of a hoppy Pilsner, as is Sam Adams Noble Pils .

Ales have been around a lot longer than lagers, so there is a certain level of irony in the fact that the American craft brew revolution owes its very raison d'etre to the rediscovery and appreciation of ales. A sort of everything-old-is-new-again turn of events.

The truth is, something like 90% of the world's beers are lagers, in large part because of the American mega brewers such as A-B, and Miller/Coors. Therefore when you think of lagers, your first image is that of the yellow, watery beers mass-produced by these companies. So when I spotted a beer called Batch 19 Lager, which claimed to be made from a pre-prohibition recipe found in the cellar of a brewery, I was intrigued. As I began to peruse the bottle and then the packaging, though, I became suspicious. Nowhere could I find the name of this brewery nor the city in which the beer was brewed. This did not bode well, as craft beers are notoriously proud of the cities or regions in which they are produced and the brewery name is always listed front and center. The only beers that don't do this are the pseudo-craft beers produced by the mega-brewers in an attempt to trick craft beer enthusiasts into buying the stuff (see previous post). I had previously tried Henry Weinhard's IPA (which I discovered was brewed by Millers/Coors) and was amazed that it could even be called an IPA. It lacked any of the characteristics you would expect from that style and tasted more like a mega-brew lager than an IPA.

I purchased a bottle of Batch 19 nonetheless, as part of a make-your-own-six-pack (the other five were Hop Wallop, an awesome beer). A little research quickly brought to light that this beer was brewed by Coors Brewing, which did not surprise me. I decided to try it and give it an honest evaluation, putting aside the annoyance that Coors worked hard to hide the fact that they brewed it. I took into consideration the fact that it was a lager, not an IPA or a Pale Ale and therefore it would be judged as such. I opted to see where it would fall if placed on an imaginary line on which I placed Miller, Coors, Bud on one end and Sam Adams Lager at the other end. Just for kicks I'll stick Yuengling somewhere in the middle.

  Millers                                                   Yuengling                               Sam Adams Lager

In other words, I did not want to compare it to, say, Firestone Jack IPA or any other IPA, because for a hophead there would be no comparison. Anyhow, what follows is the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of this brew.

1. Awesome packaging and concept. There is a whole back story with this beer that claims the recipe was recently found in the cellar of the brewery and it dates back to just before Prohibition in 1919 (thus: Batch 19). I love the packaging, and it's a great story, whether it's true or bullshit. The bottles have a unique shape, with two rings on the neck. 
2. Nice color. It is not the pale yellow of the mega-brews. It is a nice amber color. Not much of a head.
3. Good nose. The aroma reminded me of how beer smelled when I was a kid and would sneak a drink from my father's beer. (And no, that was not in 1919!) It is the aroma of floral hops (Hersbrucker and Strisslesplat hops). I know that the Splat variety of hops creates the distinctive aroma associated with Pilsners, so I suspect that is what I am getting.
4. More flavor than I expected. Compared to the beers on the left hand side of the spectrum, it is brimming with flavor. There's a bit of a bready, malty taste, and a hint of hops there. 
5. The price. I believe it came in at just under $8.00 a sixer, which is a very reasonable price for a craft beer.


1. Would I buy it? No. There are too many tastier brews out there. It might make for a decent entry-level type beer for those branching out from the yellow stuff. In a bar with only this and the yellow stuff, I'd take this in a heartbeat.
2. The price. For roughly the same price I can get Sierra Nevada's Ruthless Rye, Sam Adams' Latitude 48, Saranac's White IPA... You get the idea.


Sorry, but I still don't like the deceptive way in which the beer is marketed, wherein Coors tries to hide the fact that it's made by Coors. It's the same approach taken with Blue Moon, Henry Weinhard, and A-B's Shock Top. Come on! Be up front with us. If the beer is good, we will come!


Where would I place Batch 19 on that sliding scale? It is far superior to the previous attempts mentioned above. Honestly, very close to Sam Adams. It actually had some of the characteristics you look for, namely flavor. I'd like to try SA and this head to head, but here's roughly where I'd place it:

Miller                                                 Yuengling                                            Batch 19         Sams


So what exactly is a Pale Ale? Basically it is a warm-fermented beer brewed with a higher proportion of pale malts. Originally these were malts dried using coke. This method would produce a lighter color than most of the other beers brewed at that time (early 1700's) such as Porters of Stouts. As a rule, these beers tended to be hoppier as well. 
American Pale Ales can be traced back to 1980 when Sierra Nevada brewed their Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Although Anchor Brewing brewed a special American Ale in 1975 called Anchor Liberty Ale to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Paul Revere's ride. However it did not go into regular production and wide distribution until 1983. The main difference between the English Pale Ale and American is that American hops are used, imparting a somewhat different taste profile than beers using the English hops.


First up is New Dogtown Pale Ale. Interesting stray fact: the beer was developed by hybridizing their original Dogtown Pale Ale with their Kill Ugly Radio, a 40th anniversary tribute beer for Frank Zappa's second album.

THE BEER FACTS: ABV: 6.10%; IBUs: Unavailable; MALTS, HOPS, YEAST: "Ounces and ounces of malt, hops, yeast, and water"

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "This is not the original Pale Ale as brewed in far away 1993 in the back of the Old House of Richard's Building in the West Marin hamlet of Forest Knolls right next to Little Lagunitas...It is way better. Back then the beer tasted like broccoli and kerosene and the carbonation ate right through and drained your stomach into your gut."

COLOR: Golden honey

POUR: Decent white head with good staying power

AROMA: Perhaps a little on the hoppy side, but not a great deal of aroma detected by any of us

BODY: Medium

TASTE: It opens with a little malt taste - more neutral, then finishes with a hoppy, great bitter finish. It has notes of citrus and nuts.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Can't get enough!

COMMENTS: "A bit of a tart finish to it; A nice pale ale; A nice beer you can just keep drinking; it would make a good session beer; It's better than some IPAs I've had; It would make a good kayak beer; It's sooooo much better than Henry Weinhard; You really can't go wrong with Lagunitas."


THE BEER FACTS: ABV: 5.8%; STYLE: American Pale Ale; MALTS: 2-Row Pale, Crystal, White Wheat; HOPS: Columbus, Cascade, Centennial; DRY-HOP: Cascade, Columbus

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "With a deep golden color, Pale Ale nicely balances the bitterness of West Coast hops with the sweetness of malt. Boasting a fragrant aroma and pleasant hop bite, it is a well-balanced, refreshing ale."

COLOR:  Cloudy amber gold

POUR: Decent head that laces nicely

AROMA: Tends toward the hoppy side with a slight piney scent, but not overly so

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Toward the bitter, but does not have that up-front hops taste. There are notes of malt and a little citrus

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Just shy of "Can't get enough!"

COMMENTS: "A little more bitter, maybe a bit hoppier than Lagunitas in the aroma; Ithaca's a great brewery; I COULD DRINK THAT!; Ithaca's Flower Power IPA is one of the best beers out there and their Pale Ale is its tasty little brother; It is a terrific session beer; I'm proud that it's from New York."


THE BEER FACTS: ABV: 5.9%; IBU: 35; STYLE: "Hawaiian-style" pale ale; MALTS: Pale, Wheat, Munich, Honey; HOPS: Galena, Cascade, Mt. Hood

WHAT THE SAYS: "Fire Rock Pale Ale is a crisp, refreshing "Hawaiian-style pale ale. Its signature copper color results from the unique blend of specialty roasted malts. The pronounced citrus-floral hop aroma comes from the liberal amounts of Galena, Cascade & Mt. Hood hops added to each brew."

COLOR: Copper/dark honey

POUR: Between decent head and Guinness class, off-white head with nice lacing

AROMA: Somewhat hoppy/citrus

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Fairly balanced, with more malt than the previous brews, some notes of nut and bread

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: I could drink this"

COMMENTS: "It's a 'refresher'; It's a decent beer; Easy to drink; It's a hydrating beer; Legend has it they make a terrific IPA that they don't bottle and you can't get outside the Islands - what's up with that?; Less full-flavored than the ones we've had so far."


THE BEER FACTS: ABV: 5.9%; IBU: 47.5; STYLE: American Pale Ale; HOPS: Cascade

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Firehouse Pale Ale's name was inspired by the 1914 Cortland Firehouse which is located across the street from the brewery. The beer pours a golden color with a frothy white head...A great everyday drinking Pale Ale."

COLOR: Unfiltered golden orange

POUR: Near Guinness class off-white head 

AROMA: Fairly hoppy/piney aroma

BODY: Medium

TASTE: A little toward the malty side of balanced, with notes of malt and nut


COMMENTS: "It looks delicious; Another very good beer; It really doesn't taste like it's 47.5 IBUs; I like it - it's got a nice taste; I smell more hops than I taste; Again, like with Ithaca, it's a great New York State beer."



THE BEER FACTS: ABV: 5.6%; IBU: 52; STYLE: English Pale Ale; MALTS: North American 2-Row, Carastan, C-60, Carahell, Carafa II D H; HOPS: Bittering - Cascade and galena / Flavoring - Cascade

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Our interpretation of a classic English beer style is copper-colored, medium-bodied and pleasantly hopped. Its flavor is delightfully complex: tangy fruit at the start, with an assertive hop crispness and a long malty palate that one well-known beer writer has compared to the flavor of freshly-baked bread."

COLOR: Reddish amber

POUR: A bit better than Decent head - off-white with decent staying power

AROMA: Bready

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Leans toward the bitter/hoppy, with notes of bread, nut, toffee and citrus

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Between "I Could Drink This" and "Can't Get Enough!"

COMMENTS: "This is a nice beer; I'd buy it; I like this; I remember getting this in a sampler, and I liked it then; Most of the beers we've tasted are sweet up front then finish more bitter - this one's just the opposite; It's a nice session beer; It has a fantastic taste - a very pleasant beer; It's perfectly balanced."


THE BEER FACTS: ABV: 5.4%; IBU: 41; STYLE: British Pale Ale with American hops; HOPS: Columbus, Ahtanum

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Our flagship ale, Stone Pale Ale is our Southern California interpretation of the classic British pale ale style. Deep amber in color, Stone Pale Ale is robust and full flavored. A delicate hop aroma is complemented by a rich maltiness. This is an ale for those who have learned to appreciate distinctive flavor. Stone Pale Ale is great by itself, or with food that requires a beer of character."

COLOR: Amber

POUR: Way better than decent off-white head, with decent staying poer and good lacing

AROMA: Fresh malts

BODY: A bit beyond medium

TASTE; Just about midway between balanced and bitter. It has a nice hops presence with notes of malt, nut, and maybe a touch of caramel.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Between "I Could Drink This" and "Can't Get Enough"

COMMENTS: "It's exactly what I'd expect from Stone; It's a really, really good beer; They get a lot of taste out of a 5.4% beer; Never leave a Stone's undrunk!"


For our final "inning" of our seven inning game we looked to Cooperstown Brewery, located in the city that is home to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Appropriately enough, Cooperstown beers all have a whimsical baseball theme.

THE BEER FACTS: ABV: 5.5%; STYLE: American Pale Ale; MALTS: 2-row English pale, Crystal; HOPS: Mt. Hood, Cascade, Fuggle; FERMENTATION: In open vessels by Ringwood yeast - a top-fermenting yeast.

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: " Old Slugger is a hearty Pale Ale, copper in color, crisp malty fullness  on the front of the palate and lingering hop bitterness on the back with a dry finish. Old Slugger is the flagship beer of the Cooperstown Brewing company and was first brewed in July 1995 and bottled in November 1995."

COLOR: Copper

POUR: Unfiltered, with too much head/carbonation

AROMA: Toward the sweet/malty/bready

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Somewhat sweet, with notes of malt and nut

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Between "Leave it on the Shelf" and "I Could Drink This" 

COMMENTS: "It's very carbonated; Like drinking a Diet Coke; The carbonation kind of gets in the way of the taste: Overall, not a bad pale; I got some quite a few years ago and I didn't care for it; It seems to change from batch to batch; It has a Genesee Beer taste; It gets better as it sits, the carbonation is overpowering when it's firs poured; It's too much like a soda when it's firs poured; Not the best pale we've had today; Generally they do it right at the brewery, I've been there; I'll buy it and drink it because it's a New York State beer, but it's not a great beer."

 The battle of the Pales came out with Lagunitas as the overall winner. The results are as follows:

1. Lagunitas
2. Ithaca
3. Tie with Smuttynose and Stone
4. Cortland Fire House
5. Kona
6. Cooperstown

There's our look at Pale Ales. It was another enjoyable meeting that included good food, good music and, of course, good beer. Next month we celebrate Valentine's Day with a look at Reds:  Irish Reds, Red Ales, Red IPAs and anything else that might be a red (okay not Raspberry or Cherry beers). Until then...
The BOTB Guys 

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