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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

American Pale Ales

New to the blog? I suggest you click on "June" of 2013 in the table of contents to the right. There you will find a section called "Beer Talk" (with a nice little "Pearls Before Swine" lead-in) which rather succinctly tells you what we're all about here.


Throughout the summer Saranac Brewery has been celebrating Saranac's 125th anniversary. Originally the West End Brewery (then Matt Brewing), the Utica, New York company was one of the relatively few independent breweries to survive Prohibition. They did this in part with marketplace savvy and the ability to carve out and hold on to a regional niche for themselves. During Prohibition the company switched to root beer. Afterwards, their Utica Club lager was a low cost alternative to the mega brew lagers. They experimented with Matts Premium and Maximus Super when beer drinkers began looking for something a little different. And when the craft beer revolution got rolling, they became a regional player with their Saranac brand in 1985. Now, as part of their anniversary celebration, Saranac has been including in selected 12-packs a bonus 13th beer: a pint can of Legacy IPA. The recipe is "inspired" by a recipe handed down by the founder. It's brewed with 2-row and Munich malts as well as "a blend of historic, traditional and innovative hops." It's a 6.5% ABV beer clocking in at 60 IBUs.

I picked up a few of these 12-packs over the summer: White IPA and their summer mix, both of which had the bonus pint. Legacy is a very tasty, balanced IPA. It's not overly hoppy, but enough to make it an enjoyable brew for this hophead. If this is an example of a beer produced before Prohibition, it makes you wonder what other tasty brews were lost to posterity thanks to that bizarre, unfortunate period of American history.


Perhaps more than any other style of beer, American Pale Ale has been the driving force behind the rebirth of American brewing and the impetus that created the craft beer revolution we now enjoy. But what distinguishes an American Pale Ale from, say, a British Pale Ale? Well, first of all, it's brewed in the US. But more importantly, American Pale Ales are generally brewed using American two-row malt and American hops such as Cascade. The yeast used can also play a role. Many European yeasts will impart a distinctive taste reminiscent of banana or cloves. American yeast tends to produce a cleaner finish, allowing the malt and hops to take center stage. And it is the choice of hops that really distinguishes a pale ale as British (or European) vs. American. To some extent hops are to beer what grapes are to wine. As is true with grapes, the aroma and flavor of a hop flower is dependent on where it is grown. British pales are generally brewed with variations of Noble Hops - Fuggles, Goldings - which tend to be low in bitterness and high in aroma. American pales use any of a number of North American hops - Cascade, Amarillo, Columbus, to name a few - which have higher alpha-acid levels than their European counterparts and are therefore more bitter, often imparting a grapefruit/citrus or pine aroma and taste.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, brewed in 1980, was the first modern American Pale Ale, and is often credited as being the beer that started the craft beer movement. Although the first modern American ale, Liberty Ale, was brewed by Anchor Brewing in 1975 as a bicentennial tribute to Paul Revere's ride. It was a local favorite but didn't become a regular brew for the company until 1983.  Until these ground-breakers came along, American brewers had gone almost exclusively to brewing lagers. Lagers are cheaper and faster to brew. Anything resembling a pale ale had long since faded from the American brewing landscape as beers became lighter and increasingly more tasteless. And with that abomination known as "light" or "lite" beer, American beers had fallen into an abyss of watery torpor. The reintroduction of the pale ale by S-N began to reverse this trend.

So what should you expect from an American Pale Ale (APA)? First of all, pale ales and IPAs are kissing cousins, and the line between the two styles gets blurred. We have had IPAs that are closer to pale ales and pales ales that could pass for an IPA. We've also had a few pseudo-IPAs that wouldn't pass as a pale ale (I'm talking to you, Alexander Keith IPA!).  But as a general rule, APAs should have a solid malt base with varying degrees of hop bitterness. If it's an APA, the hops will usually give it that grapefruit/hop taste. But the hops will take a backseat to the malt, which can impart a bready or biscuit-like taste often with hints of caramel. The aroma can range from pine to floral to grassy to earthy, depending on the hops. 

Whereas we hadn't specifically reviewed pale ales our first three and a half years, we took on APAs for the second time this year. There seems an endless supply of really good pale ales, and our pursuit was to check out another group of them. With a full contingent of tasters this month, we took a look at six American Pale Ales and, at the end, a powerhouse Imperial Pale Ale.

Our APAs this month included:

Dirty Blonde Pale Ale from Adirondack Pub and Brewery, Lake George, NY
Stranger Pale Ale from Left Hand Brewing Co., Longmont, CO
Headwater Pale Ale from Victory Brewing Co., Downington, PA
Live Pale Ale from Southern Tier Brewing Co., Lakewood, NY
Doggie Style Pale Ale Flying Dog Brewing Co., Fredrick, MD
Burning River Pale Ale from Great Lakes Brewery, Cleveland, OH
Imperial Pale Ale from Middle Ages Brewing Co., Syracuse, NY

Once again, we sampled the beers in order based on their respective ABVs. We have found that we can more honestly rate the beer on its own merits this way, rather than comparing it to a "bigger" beer we might have had just before it.

Adirondack Pub and Brewery, Lake George, NY

The Beer Facts: STYLE: American Pale Ale; ABV: 4.60%; IBU: 25

What The Brewer Says: "An unfiltered American wheat ale."

Color: Cloudy straw

Pour: A very ample, near guinness class head. It was very carbonated, and after a short time left a "fish net lace."

Aroma: Grassy and piney

Body: Light/thin

Taste: Grassy early on, then finishes with more flavor - resinous and of pine. It has notes of pine, citrus/grapefruit.

Overall Impression: "I could drink this"

Comments: "I've had lots worse pale ales; This is a great session beer; It has a pilsner/champagne-y taste; It's better after a couple of drinks; It's an ale; A solid summer drink; Nice for a wheat - they put some hops in it."

Left Hand Brewing Co., Longmont, CO

 ~ Left Hand Brewing has fairly recently come onto the national scene, at least in these parts (the Northeast). At least three of their brews have shown up on the local shelves: 400 Pound Monkey, Nitro Milk Stout, and  Stranger Pale Ale.  We had a couple of Nitros for sampling but not rating. It is a unique, fun stout. Unique in that you are instructed to tip the bottle straight down and pour it into the glass, allowing the beer to splash fully on the bottom of the glass, as opposed to pouring it down the side. I had one again the other day and thoroughly  enjoyed it. It tastes like you think Guinness should taste - rich with strong hints of dark chocolate, coffee and and bread. I enjoyed it even more when I had time to linger over a full glass. ~

The Beer Facts: STYLE: American Pale Ale; ABV: 5.0%; IBUs: 36; MALT: 2-Row, Rye Malt, Munich, Crystal; HOPS: Centennial, Willamette, Cascade

What the Brewer Says: "Friend or foe? Sane or senseless? Harmless or harmful? Sometimes it takes awhile to get to know a stranger. Initial impressions are not always reality, so you must delve deeper. Beyond the initial floral hop aromas, malt sweetness is revealed, yet with a spicy undertone that exposes a very rye sense of humor. Take your time to get to know the Stranger. It's strangely

Color: Light Amber

Pour: Decent to slightly less than decent pour

Aroma: A bit spicy

Body: Light to Medium

Taste: Initially tastes blanced, then has a nice finish with an aftertaste bite to it. Notes of bread and nuts. 

Overall Impression: "I could drink this"

Comments: "This is a good beer; A little hoppier than the Blonde; A nice easy-drinking beer; It needs to be cold; There is not a strong hops presence; It tastes like a pale ale, not an IPA; The packaging asks 'Friend or Foe?' - I'd embrace the 'Left Handed' Stranger."

Victory Brewing Co., Downington, PA

The Beer Facts: STYLE: American Pale Ale; ABV: 5.1%; MALTS: Imported 2-Row malts; HOPS: Whole flower American hops

What the Brewer Says: "This firmly crisp and aromatically arousing pale ale integrates a softly supportive malt base which underlies streams of herbal hop complexity. Shifting impressions of lemon aroma and flavor interemingle with leafy, tea-like earthiness as the flowing appeal of American hops unfolds in Headwaters."

Color: Deep amber/orange

Pour: A thin head with tight bubbles. Nice lacing.

Aroma: Pine, grapefruit, and spice

Body: Fairly thin

Taste: Initially tastes balanced, then finishes with a hoppy pine. There were notes of pine, malt and nut.

Overall Impression: Between "I could drink this" and "Can't get enough"

Comments: "There was some malt added to the blend; There is more malt presence than with the others; This is an IPA disguised as a Pale Ale; This is really smooth; It's well-made; It tastes like a bigger beer than it is; This brewery rarely disappoints; This is a nice full-flavored pale ale; In Canada, this would be a big hoppy IPA."

Southern Tier Brewing Company, Lakewood, NY

The Beer Facts: STYLE: Bottle Conditioned Pale Ale; ABV: 5.5%; IBUs: NA; MALTS: Four varieties; HOPS: Four varieties; 

What the Brewer Says: "Beer is made by creating a liquid rich with fermentable material. this 'wort' is moved to a fermentation vessel where yeast, a living organism, is added. (While the yeast is active) the beer is literally alive. Just prior to packaging we add a little yeast to the clear beer for a secondary fermentation. This helps to add carbonation, remove oxygen and prolong shelf life."

Color: Cloudy honey 

Pour: More than a decent head, a little more carbonated than the average beer.

Aroma: Hoppy floral

Body: Medium

Taste: Nice hoppy taste and finish. There were notes of grass/hay with spicy under-tastes.

Overall Impression: Nearly up to "Can't get enough"

Comments: "This has a beautiful hop taste; Southern Tier comes through again; This and Victory (Headwater) had big noses today; It's tasty - I like that; I don't know where Southern Tier is, but I'd move there; Delightful taste - it tastes like another; It's complex: it has more and better flavors; This hits the whole mouth; It's the whole package; A lot of beers don't go to the trouble."

Flying Dog Brewery, Frederick, MD

~ An interesting note on this particular tasting. When we do our tastings and ratings, we customarily pour two or three partial glasses from the same bottle and open only two or three from the six-pack. We started off just fine with color and pour. When we got to aroma, taste notes, and overall impression, we couldn't have been farther apart. While a few of us complained of a 'skunky' aroma to the beer, others looked at them as if they were crazy. As it turned out, one of the beers had 'skunked' on us. Once the complainants opened a different bottle they noticed a world of difference. We rated the beer on the 'good' bottles. We've all had the unfortunate experience of a 'skunky' beer, so nothing more needs to be said about that except that it was a good thing we had opened more than one bottle! ~

The Beer Facts: STYLE: American Pale Ale; ABV: 5.5%; IBUs: 35; MALTS: 120 L Crystal; HOPS: Northern Brewer, Cascade, Simcoe, Citra

What the Brewer Says: "The alpha of the pack, Doggie Style complements a wide range of foods. Flavor notes: grassy, citrus and slight perfume hop aromas with subtle sweet malt body."

Color: Orange-amber

Pour: Decent creamy or almond head

Aroma: Floral hops

Body: Medium

Taste: Toward the bitter side of balanced, with a nice bitter finish, with malty, bready yeast notes.

Overall Impression: Very close to "Can't get enough"

Comments: "Easy drinking; No lingering after-taste; Very tasty - similar to Live; Delicious; Perhaps they should can their beers to avoid the skunk; I'm so glad I had the second beer; Quite balanced; A nice, very drinkable pale ale."

Great Lakes Brewing Co., Cleveland, OH

The Beer Facts: STYLE: American Pale Ale; ABV: 6.0%; IBUs: 45; MALT: 2-Row malt; HOPS: Cascade

What the Brewer Says: "An assertively hopped American pale ale with citrusy and piney Cascade hops."

Color: Copper

Pour: Decent, off-white head

Aroma: Grassy

Body: Medium

Taste: Complex, somewhat unbalanced, toward hoppy. It had notes of malt and floral, piney hops, as well as caramel/toffee to the finish, with hints of yeast.

Overall Impression: Very close to "Can't get enough"

Comments: "This is a classic American Pale Ale; It has a great color; Well balanced; Widely distributed; Nicely hopped; A nice beer - I like this a lot; It's a pleasant pale ale; It is a complex beer; It hits a lot of notes."

Middle Ages Brewery, Syracuse, NY

~Okay, so this is a bit of cheat, in a way. Middle Ages prides itself on "Producing British inspired ales in Syracuse, New York since 1995." So this is an American Pale Ale only in that it was brewed in America. But we couldn't pass it up! It was a single time brew. And it's a big beer. And Middle Ages is kind of our home team. We wanted to end the tastings with a bang, so to speak, and this fit the bill. ~

The Beer Facts: STYLE: Imperial Pale Ale; ABV: 9.0%; IBUs: NA (as well as the malts and hops used)

What the Brewer Says: "Single time brew. Producing British inspired ales in Syracuse, New York since 1995."

Color: Unfiltered honey

Pour: Better than decent head

Aroma:  spicy hops

Body: Well toward Full

Taste: Notes of bread, nuts and yeast with sharp bitter finish.

Overall Impression: "Can't get enough"

Comments: "It's a glory in the mouth; WOW! That is nice!; It's like comparing men to boys; Happy Anniversary, Middle Ages; This isn't exactly a lawn mower beer, is it?; You can definitely taste the alcohol presence - in a good way; It has a great, warm after-taste."


As is normally the case, we did. There really wasn't a loser in the bunch if you discount the skunked bottle. But that's kind of a cop-out so I'll give your the general consensus below.

1. Middle Ages Imperial Pale Ale - The only one that came up a unanimous "Can't get enough" - even though, at 9.0%, you probably could. We loved this brew from Middle Ages and hope they'll bring it back.
~The next three were neck and neck and neck (a bit of a bottleneck, if you will) but roughly fell out like this:
2. Burning River Pale Ale from Great Lakes - a terrific, full-flavored pale.
3. Live Bottle Conditioned Pale Ale from Southern Tier - A neat concept that pays off in a tasty brew.
4. Doggie Style Pale Ale  from Flying Dog - One bad bottle don't spoil the whole pack - to paraphrase The Jackson Five
5. Headwater Pale Ale  from Victory - A nicely hopped pale - Victory is always a winner
6. Stranger American Pale Ale from Left Hand - Not as hoppy as the others, but good. Really liked their Nitro Milk Stout - tastes like you think a Guinness should.
7. Dirty Blonde Pale Ale - Adirondack Brewing - A nice session beer - more taste than one would expect from a wheat.


Back in June we had our annual "followers" meeting. This is basically an excuse for a good time where we send out an open invitation to all who may read this blog and are close enough to come. We had a nice turnout this year. Played a round of "Captain and Mate" golf on a pleasant Saturday followed by some great food at Herb and Pat's place in Port Ontario. Lots of good music from the BC3 and, as you might guess, some terrific beer. 
Besides a firkin of Middle Ages Old Marcus Ale (which was pretty firkin good), we had numerous craft beers from a wide range of breweries. A good time was had by all. 
Join us next year.


Product placement has been around for years, and Budweiser has been one of the most prominent purveyors of this type of sneaky advertising. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, product placement is when a company pays a movie or TV show producer to prominently feature their product in the production. Consider over the years how many times you've seen a character sipping a Bud in a movie or TV show. It's a nice bit of extra revenue for the producers in exchange for exposure for the product without the cost of producing an ad. Budweiser has so dominated the beer product placement over the years that I like to see it when some other beer (particularly a craft beer) gains exposure in this manner. Here's my latest. Check out the clip below from True Blood.

Previously in the episode, Terry, an ex-marine recently back from Iraq and suffering from PTSD, is asked by his cousin, Andy Bellefleur, what beer he could bring him. Terry responds, "Raging Bitch IPA. It's the only American beer European soldiers could stand to drink over there." 
According to Flying Dog Brewery this was not a paid product placement. The writers (many of whom are craft beer fans) worked the beer in organically to the script. 
As a fan of True Blood I've noticed that the bar, Merlotte's has a number of craft beers on tap, especially Abita, which makes sense since it takes place in New Orleans.

Let us know of any Craft Beer Spottings in movies and TV. We'll throw them on the blog and try to get clips as well.

Up next: Monster Beers - beers with beastly, ghostly or otherwise eerie names. It's our Halloween special.

The BOTB Guys

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