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Monday, October 24, 2016

American Pale Ales

"They are pale lager beers vaguely of the pilsener style but lighter in body, notably lacking in hop character, and generally bland in palate. They do not all taste exactly the same but the differences between them are often of minor consequence."  -British beer writer Michael Jackson on American beers pre-Craft Beer Revolution.

That was the state of beer no so long ago in the US. And a sad state it was. Most small, independent breweries had been steamrolled by the mega-breweries. The few indie breweries that remained, in order to stay afloat, had to follow the mega-brew lead with bland lagers soon to be followed by that bane of real-beer lovers' existence: Light (Lite) Beer!

Full Boar Brewery-
North Syracuse, NY

I think about that whenever I see one of those "best beer in every state" articles that pop up on-line and in beer magazines. Such an article would have been unthinkable in the bad old days before the Craft Beer Revolution. Yet now, pretty much every state has so many terrific craft breweries that picking the best beer (or for that matter, the best IPA, or Stout or Belgian, or Wheat) is nearly impossible because there are so many good beers out there. Just take a look at the beer menu below. This is from a relatively small brewery in Northern New York. Check out the array of beers they brew. Yet, unless you visit Tupper Lake, it's unlikely you'll have an opportunity to try any since they don't bottle. And there are hundreds of small breweries such as this around the country. One of the things I always check when my wife and I travel is local breweries. The quality of beer can vary greatly as well as the styles and the vibe of the place. Some tend to specialize in, say, British style beer, or Belgian or Sours, or big hoppy beers. Some try to run the gamut of styles from light lagers to big Imperial Stouts and IPAs. Many serve "guest beers" - craft beers brewed by other breweries which may serve to fill in the gap in the styles that they themselves don't provide. Some serve food, some don't. But the atmosphere is generally convivial and they are populated with like-minded craft beer fans who often are quick to share their opinions on their favorite brews. Consider the fact that not so long ago there were no such places. Sad.

Raquette River Brewing, Tupper Lake, NY

While in Old Forge recently, I picked up a mixed-12 by Adirondack Brewing called Hop Project. It contained: Double IPA, Iroquois Pale Ale, Dirty Blonde, and New York Common. As I've mentioned before, I'm often leery about mixed 12's. Very often you end up with a couple of "meh" beers. But I liked the name so I took the plunge. I was not disappointed. Their Double IPA is a hop-head's dream. Big, hoppy, delicious. Their Iroquois Pale Ale is right there as well with plenty of Chinook, Cascade, Centennial Columbus and Falconer's Flight hops in there to give it a great hoppy/citrus punch.  Dirty turned out to be a terrific pale ale that would have fared well this month had it been in competition. The fourth beer, New York Common, I was concerned about since it is a lager. It derives it's name from the fact that it is brewed with all New York State grown hops and malt. I found it to be surprisingly hoppy for a lager with a much fuller body and complex taste than your typical lager. So, in the end, no losers here. This is a mixed-12 I hope makes it out of the mountains!

'Nuff Said

Still love the back of the Arrogant Bastard Ale bombers. It so perfectly encapsulates the essence of the Craft Beer Revolution. I love it that Stone has started selling it in 6-pack 16 ounce cans now. And at a really reasonable price. I keep coming back to it.


Pale Ales are really the style of beer that jump-started the Craft Beer Revolution. Think Sierra-Nevada Pale Ale or Samuel Adams Boston Ale or Saranac Pale Ale. While the roots of craft beer extend back into the '70's with New Albion Brewing Company and Anchor Brewing, it wasn't until the mid '80's that craft brewing really took off. Much of that has to do with the fact that the most popular craft beers early on were Pale Ales. Pale Ales made for a nice transition into the world of beer beyond the mega-brews Americans were stuck with for so long. They broadly retained the general taste profile of the lagers but with enhanced hop presence as well as fuller bodies and richer malt backbones. Okay, so they were far superior to our mega-brews, but not so far out as to alienate the uninitiated. This month we return to that style that was a tasty gateway into the world of craft beer. 


THE BEER FACTS: BREWER: Switchback Brewing, Burlington, VT; STYLE: Pale Ale; ABV: 4.8%; IBUs: 47; HOPS: Centennial, Chinook, Cascade

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Our Extra Pale Ale (XPA) is a hop-forward pale ale that employs an abundant use of whole cone hops. We have balanced the amazing bouquet and flavors that whole cone hops possess with a subdued malt character, creating a crisp refreshing beer."

COLOR: Unfiltered raw honey

POUR: Near Decent Head

AROMA: We didn't note a big nose, some grassy, hay aromas

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Leans toward bitter, a bit beyond Balanced, with a nutty base and hints of citrus hops 

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

COMMENTS: "Sparkly (not quite effervescent) mouthfeel; Great tasting pale; Very tasty for a 4.8%; They have no trouble making a good beer; Nice, crisp beer; Summer beer - too bad it's not in cans - but I do like the stubbies; You could drink a bucket-load of these; Nice aftertaste - it lingers; You do get more of a hoppy presence than you might expect from a Pale; Some tastes of grapefruit, bit of pine - subtle."


THE BEER FACTS: BREWER: Ballast Point Brewing, San Diego, CA; STYLE: American Pale Ale; ABV: 5.5%; IBUs: 50; MALT: Caramel; HOPS: New hop varieties

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Our Grunion Pale Ale wasn't born on a beach, but in a backyard. Originating from an employee-only home brew contest, this award-winning hoppy pale ale is named after the tiny local fish known for late night frolics on shore. A pair of new hop varieties lend strong yet balanced summer melon aromas and herbal flavors, while a soft caramel malt sweetness holds it all together."

COLOR: Unfiltered light golden

POUR: Bit beyond Decent white head with nice lacing

AROMA: A sort of musty/dank aroma

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Well toward the bitter end of the spectrum, with big tropical fruit flavors dominant


COMMENTS: "Unique, distinctive taste; Tanin flavor; El Dorado hops?; I really like this - I'll pick up some of this; I like the taste much better than the aroma; Not sure why tropical fruit aroma doesn't come through, but it's there in the flavor in spades; Really nice; Delicious - unanimously."


THE BEER FACTS: BREWER: Flying Dog Brewery, Frederick, MD; 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: Golden

POUR: Better than decent head with solid staying power

AROMA: Grassy, hay, floral

BODY: Medium

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

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Very near "Can't Get Enough!"

COMMENTS: "Easy drinking; No lingering after-taste; Very tasty; Delicious; Quite balanced; A nice, very drinkable pale ale.Well balanced, what you'd expect of an American Pale Ale; Nice bit of hoppiness with a good malt backing."


THE BEER FACTS: BREWER: Evil Twin Brewing, Stratford, CT; STYLE: ABV: 5.5%; IBUs: 60

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Perhaps you heard of a worldwide beer-movement that tributes favorite hipster neighbourhoods across the globe. If you feel excluded because you're hip but your city is not, this cutting-edge, 'hip without border' pale ale is an homage to you - the global hipster. Cheers!"

COLOR: Unfiltered buckwheat honey

POUR: Between Decent and Guinness Class head - pretty impressive thick, off-white head

AROMA: Sweet grass, but not a real powerful aroma

BODY: A bit beyond Medium

TASTE: Leans toward the bitter end, beyond balanced

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Pretty close to "Can't Get Enough!"

COMMENTS: "Nice opening taste; Nice beer; I could drink this all day long; Again - aroma belies the taste - not much aroma, but a big taste; Tastes almost like an IPA; I  could drink a lot of these; Nice bitter after-taste; Sweet in the middle - but resolves into a bitter finish."

THE BEER FACTS: BREWER: Idletyme Brewing, Stowe, VT; STYLE: American Pale Ale; ABV: 5.5%

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "This classic style is dry-hopped with pungent US varieties, wonderful aromas in the nose, medium bitterness."

COLOR: Unfiltered golden

POUR: Bit better than a Decent Head

AROMA: Floral hoppy

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Moderately bitter with hints of clove, banana, toffee; malt forward followed by nice citrus hop bite


COMMENTS: "A very hoppy APA - almost and IPA; Bites your tongue a bit; Fills the mouth - excites the mouth; British vibe to it with the clove / banana opening; Malty; This is absolutely delicious; Actually it's a pretty balanced Pale Ale if you ask me."


THE BEER FACTS: BREWER: Middle Ages Brewing Company, Syracuse, NY; STYLE: Pale Ale; ABV: 5.80%; MALT: wheat malt, flaked oats; HOPS:  Calypso, El Dorado, Centennial.

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "This pale ale is brewed with loads of wheat malt and flaked oats to give it a full body that showcases the Calypso, El Dorado and Centennial Hops. Added citrus further brightens the beer and a nice dry finnish makes it extremely drinkable."

COLOR: Unfiltered clover honey

POUR: Bit beyond Decent head with plenty of white lacing

AROMA: Spicy scent

BODY: Bit shy of Medium

TASTE: Between balanced and bitter

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Just shy of "Can't Get Enough!"

COMMENTS: "They've had 21 years to get it right, and they did; Really nice beer; Very drinkable; Smooth; Pleasant, from a brewery that never disappoints, once again they have brewed a beer that fills the mouth and is oh, so delicious; Really nice easy-drinker with a terrific citrus bite; That spicy aroma is really nice, and the taste is very bright and citrusy."


THE BEER FACTS: BREWER: Funky Bow Brewing & Beer Co., Lyman, ME; STYLE: American Pale Ale; ABV: 5.5%; HOPS: Cascade

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Smooth and drinkable! Nice flavorful light malts allow the summer and Cascade hops to shine through. With hints of sweet orange and coriander, this pale is unique as it is smooth."

COLOR: Golden

POUR: Decent white head with nice lacing

AROMA: Grassy, earthy

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Touch of cloves, bit of pine with a little grass and bready malt underneath it all

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Just shy of "Can't Get Enough!"

COMMENTS: "A really nice beer; Almost an IPA; Delicious Pale Ale; Fills the tongue; The last in a series of delicious beers - very impressed with this Pale Ale offering; It hits all the notes you want in an APA; Not over-the-top, but a pleasing hop presence."


So who wins in this epic battle of American Pale Ales? Besides us, your ever humble reviewers, that is. Well, once again, we really didn't have a loser in the bunch. It's kind of like going to one of those "make your own 6-pack" sections that stores like Wegman's have made popular. When the Great Craft Beer Revolution began getting real traction because people began realizing how much better real ale was than mega-brewed lager, I, like many others, would go to those racks and pick up a 6-pack of wildly differing styles, just to try them. But now, older and wiser in the ways of beer that we are, we know what we like and we cherry-pick the styles that we know we will enjoy. So it is with our reviews. You'll not find Blue Moon or Shock Top because they are neither real craft beers, nor beers we care to spend our precious beer money on. We are also unlikely to delve into the world of Kolsh styles or Gose Beers or Sours because we have now tried them and know these are just not our style of choice (not going to do hard soft drinks either - sorry, but that's not beer).  So truly, the styles we choose are those that we enjoy - IPAs (and anything with IPA in its name), DIPAs, Pale Ales, Porters, Stouts, British Ales. Hell, anything Stone brews (I had their Wussie Pilsner, and it wasn't bad). But we're not going to do Mega-brews and rarely will we entertain a lager. We are ale guys. My point being that there's a reason you won't find too many truly negative reviews here - although they do occur - we know what we like and there are so many new and wonderful variations of those styles that we can't see drinking "meh" beer (and especially not meh-ga brews). It also wouldn't be fair to aficionados of, say, sours for us to express our opinions on that style since it just isn't something we care for.
Anyhow... here's how the Battle fell out once the smoke cleared.

1. Grunion Pale Ale - Despite the fact that Ballast Point got bought out by A-B, they still seem to be producing some really fine beers. Sculpin has been a favorite for some time, but their whole Pale Ale series - Grunion, Big Eye, Sculpin are terrific beers and hopefully the money grubbers at A-B don't stick their noses into the brewing process.

2. Zog's Pale Ale - Real nice, wonderfully hopped pale ale from a relatively small Vermont brewery. Nicely complex flavor.

3. Hipster APA - We really liked this tasty pale ale from Evil Twin Brewing. One of several we had that could have passed for an IPA.

4. Finally Legal - Will this 21 Anniversary brew ever make it outside the brewery? Hard to tell. Their terrific Late Knight Imperial IPA started out like this but became so popular they began bottling it.  A very nice, drinkable beer.

5. G-String Pale Ale - Maine is becoming a realy player in the craft beer world. Once noted mostly for British inspired breweries like Full Sail, more and more Maine breweries are making a mark out there. G-String is another of those near IPA level Pale Ales. A really nice beer.

6. Doggie Style Pale Ale - Flying Dog's flagsship beer, this remains a benchmark for what you expect from a good American IPA.

7. Switchback Extra Pale Ale - Though it fell a little short compared to the other beers, it really is a very good beer. Tasty, balanced, drinkable and at 4.8% a great beer for a long day of festivities.

Next Month: Another Wild Card Month - Bring a beer we haven't reviewed

The BOTB Guys

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