Defining The Craft is a brief look at different beer styles that will help you learn whether they’re right for you. Ultimately, words can’t truly turn you on to a solid craft beer. You have to smell, taste, and savor each sip to truly discover if it’s one you’ll come back to in the future. But the background info obtained in this post won’t hurt anything either.
What is a Pale Ale?
Since the debut edition of Defining The Craft tapped into IPAs, it’s only fitting we take a look at pale ales today. Or, maybe you’re thinking because India Pale Ales are an extension of the Pale Ale family, I should’ve led off with today’s offering instead. But I didn’t. So, there’s that.
Moving on…let’s talk about Pale Ale!
Pale Ale is a beer made by warm fermentation using predominantly pale malt. A higher proportion of pale malts results in a lighter color. The term “pale ale” first appeared around 1703 for beers made from malts dried with coke, which resulted in a lighter color than other beers popular that day and age.
Like many beer styles, Pale Ale is the result of an innovation in brewing. The brewers in Burton-on-Trent in England were looking for a way to produce a more consistent, paler beer. The kilns in that age of brewing used wood, which was difficult to control and often resulted in dark-roasted, even scorched barley. They discovered that coke, a processed form of coal that burns hot and steady, helped them achieve the effect they desired…a clear, amber-colored ale. The final product was far more pale than any of the British ales brewed to that point.
Worldwide, brewers of Pale Ale work hard to reproduce the naturally occurring water of the original Pale Ale brewery in Burton, chemically treating it in hopes of replicating water as hard as Burton-on-Trent’s. Ironically, these same brewers will use hops and yeast that are different from those used in traditional English ales, but the water type holds the precedence in this style of beer.
The traditional British styles of Pale Ales include bitter and Extra Special Bitter (ESB) and offer a pleasant and understated beer. It’s taste is more malty, but includes just enough woody or floral hops to balance it out. American versions are typically brewed with dialed-down maltiness and more aggressive hop varieties.
Personally, I believe Pale Ales are great “training wheels” for those transitioning into craft beers. They aren’t overpowering and introduce your palate to a better version of beer, one brewed with natural ingredients and not watered-down with additives and adjuncts to dilute the flavor. Once your palate adapts to this enhanced flavor, you can naturally progress to hoppier offerings, otherwise known as India Pale Ales, or IPAs. But no matter how far you venture, revisiting a Pale Ale is always easy and acceptable.
Without question, one of the most popular and renowned Pale Ales is Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Whether you’re just beginning your journey down the craft beer superhighway or have been down with the crafts for a while, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is one you’ll come back to over and over again.
I could provide a list of great Pale Ales to test your palate. But this beer style offers so many great options, it’s tough to go wrong. I did, however, come across this great article by Larry Koestler that breaks down Pale Ales by states in which they’re produced. Click Here and consume!