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Craft beer style profile: American Pale Ale

A trend setting craft beer
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company

Often referred to as a “gateway” craft beer, the American pale ale (APA) is both a familiar beer style and a complex one. From assertively hoppy to fruity and balanced, the APA is the style of craft beer even the casual beer drinker can say they’ve enjoyed. This “lawnmower” or camping beer style is a classic well balanced and more flavorful alternative to boring macro produced brews.

With British roots, this style is now popular worldwide because it provides a good balance of malt and hops, enough for the average beer drinker and the craft beer nerd alike. American versions tend to be cleaner and hoppier, while British tend to be more malty, aromatic and balanced.

Is an India Pale Ale (IPA) too hoppy for you? Try the classic Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The piney and grapefruit notes are balanced enough to convert the stuck-in-a-rut light pilsner drinker and bold enough to keep the average hophead happy. It has been a standard since the 1980s and along with Anchor Brewing’s Liberty Ale has helped define what many craft beer styles should be.

APAs are generally around 5% ABV (alcohol by volume) with significant quantities of American hops, often the Cascade variety. It is the American hops that distinguish an APA from British or European pale ales. The style is similar to the IPA, though IPAs are typically stronger and more assertively hopped. Browse your favorite beer ranking website or blog and you’ll see lots of craft beers pushing the boundaries of the definition of the style, many aggressively hopped like a West Coast IPA. Zombie Dust from Three Floyd’s is hoppy enough even for us San Diegans, and at 6.5% ABV and 60 IBUs it definitely broadens the definition of the style.

The technical stuff:
Aroma: Pronounced fruit, citrus, pine and/or pungent floral aromas and flavors from Cascade and other American hop varietals.

Flavor: Fresh hops characteristics, both on the nose and the taste. Moderate to high hop bitterness with a medium to dry finish. Hop flavor and bitterness often lingers into the finish.

Appearance: Generally quite clear, although dry-hopped versions may be slightly hazy. Pale golden to deep amber. Moderately large white to off-white head with good retention.

Vital Statistics: OG: 1.045 – 1.060
IBUs: 30 – 45 FG: 1.010 – 1.015
SRM: 5 – 14 ABV: 4.5 – 6.2%

Top notch local versions:
Ballast Point pale ale, which is a nod to the German Kolsch style, finishing crisp like a lager due to the imported hops and malt.

El Conquistador from Mission Brewing dry hops their version of a pale, using Centennial hops to get that lemony characteristic that makes it an easy drinking 4.8% beer.

In typical pioneering fashion, Stone Brewing refused to use Cascade hops like nearly everyone else when designing their pale. The hybrid English/West Coast pale that has been around locally for a couple decades is an old standby.

Alesmith X is an award winning Extra PA with citrus and pine notes and a smooth, dry finish. A truly sessionable craft beer at around 5%ABV.

Other American examples: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Stone Pale Ale, Bear Republic XP Pale Ale, Deschutes Mirror Pond, Three Floyds X-Tra Pale Ale, Firestone Pale Ale, Left Hand Brewing Jackman’s Pale Ale, Flying Dog Doggie Style Pale Ale, Sweetwater 420 Pale Ale

Import examples: Fuller’s London Pride, Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Pale Ale, Samuel Smith’s Organically Produced Ale, Black Sheep Ale, Tetley’s English Ale, Boddingtons Pub Ale, Old Speckled Hen, Bass Ale

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