Friday, March 28, 2014

Ale turns pale.

Pale ale is the hallmark of the craft beer movement. 

It's a beer complex enough to be interesting, but light bodied enough to be easily drinkable. It's also very quick to brew, which is why every new brewery that comes along makes a pale ale. New breweries need to get a product on the market quickly to generate some cash flow, and lagers need time to mature.

What are the unique qualities of American and English Pale ales?

Pale ale was made possible with the development of a closed kiln that used indirect heat to roast the barley.

The same innovation that allowed Checkoslovakian brewers to create pilsner allowed English brewers to create pale ale.

Instead of toasting barley over an open flame, the use of indirect heat allowed brewers to have control over the toasting of barley malt. Now they could make beer that was pale golden to deep amber.

The first pale ales weren't necessarily pale in color, but they were pale when compared to other beers of the time.

The English were among the last in Europe to adopt the use of hops in brewing. Prior to Flemmish (northern Belgium) immigrants bringing hops to England, ale was flavored with a blend of herbs called gruit. 

The new style of beer was not only paler than other beers, but it also contained a bitter component provided by hops.
English Pale Ales are also called bitters. The terms pale ale and bitters are synonymous in England, but some brewers use the term pale ale to refer to the bottled version and bitters to refer to the same style of beer served from a cask. 

No matter what name you give this style of beer, pale ales will have a nutty maltiness and a much fuller flavor than lagers. Pale ales will also be less fizzy than lagers, particularly English pale ales, which are often served slightly warmer than lagers are served.

English pale ales feature a delicate balance between malt flavors and hops flavors. American pale ales tend to feature more hop flavor, even adding dry hops to the beer as it ferments. 

Adding even more hops creates a style known as India Pale Ale, but that style will get a post of its own.

English pale ale uses nutty, robust malts that can add caramel or raisin flavors. American pale ales tend to be slightly lighter and crisper.

Of course, there are no strict guidelines, and there is a lot of room for brewers to interpret the pale ale.

English and American pale ales have a distinctly different hop flavors.

Pale ales have plenty of hops, but English and American versions of pale ale use different types of hops. 

American hops varieties (Cascade is widely used)  tend to impart bold citric qualities. English hops (Fuggle, East Kent Goldings, and Target are the classic English hop varieties) tend to impart softer grassy and floral qualities. 

English pale ale yeast strains impart fruity aromas and butterscotchy flavors. The yeast strains used in American pale ales are fairly neutral, and do not add significant aromas or flavors.

American pale ales have hop flavor, but without the astringency of beers you might think of as super hoppy, like an India Pale Ale. This bitteness is balanced by the malty sweetness that comes from the barley.

Around Western Washington State, try a Manny's or a Mack & Jack's Pale Ale, two representative Pacific Northwest Pale Ales that you'll only find on tap. Portland, Oregon also has a number of excellent pale ales that you will only find in Portland.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is a classic example of American pale ale. 

It's easy to find in stores, so go grab a six pack and open up a bottle.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale has a deep amber color. This tells us that the barley has been toasted more than the barley used to make a pilsner, and that there will be more malty flavor in the beer.

When you take a whiff, you'll get a big hit of citrus (I get primarily orange). This comes from the use of Cascade hops, which are a hop variety developed in Oregon in the early 1970's. Cascade hops are widely used in craft brewing, and they generate the signature aroma of American Pale Ales.

This is a fairly hoppy beer, but the bitterness is well balanced by malty sweetness. As is typical of this beer style, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is complex, with caramel and pine flavors. 

Pale ale is medium bodied.

What do I mean by body? I'm referring to the perceived weight and thickness of the drink in your mouth. Think of milk: skim milk has a light body, 2% milk as a medium body, whole milk is also medium bodied, but has a more body than 2% milk does, and cream has a very full body.

Pale ale has a fuller body than a pilsner but less body than some other styles of beer. As far as beer goes, pale ale has a medium body.

Pale ale pairs wonderfully with food. 

Pale ale is popular because it's easy to drink, and it pairs with pretty much any food that you throw at it. 

A pale ale will pair with grilled meats (Burgers! Chicken!) picking up the smoky flavors, and a works with a wide variety of nutty cheeses too. Look for firm cheeses that develop flavor with age, like Beecher's Flagship, English Cheddar, Compté, Gouda, or Manchego.

Ask your cheesemonger for Pondhopper, a cheese from Tumalo Farms, an Oregon specialist in Gouda-style goat cheeses, or try pairing a pale ale with blue cheeses like Maytag or Rogue Creamery's Rogue River Blue.

Pale ale has a light enough body so that it doesn't completely dominate most lighter food pairings, but it has enough body to stand up to bold flavors. The flavor is complex, and there is a little malty sweetness to help tie the beer flavors together with the food.

Carbonation is another thing that helps this beer (and all beers) pair well with food. The carbon dioxide dissolves in water to form carbonic acid, which makes your mouth water and helps to refresh your palate with every sip. 

Carbonation is also what makes sparkling wine an ideal wine for pairing with food. In fact, we could say that pale ale is the champagne of beer, but apparently there is a problem with that comparison and my legal department tells me that instead, I should say that Pale Ale is the Pinot Noir of beer.

But you get the idea.

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