Recently I was afforded the opportunity to compare two American pale ales. One was a national favorite and the other was a local Kingman favorite. The beers were poured for me by a third party as I wished to do the comparison blind. In other words, I knew what beers I had at home, but not which beer was poured into which glass. I had to figure that out myself.
The head was poofy, rocky, prominent and very white. It was copper, orange and yellow, like filtered sunlight. Slightly darker than an American lager. The hops said hello immediately; they were piney but with a bright floral and citrus character. The first taste offers up this bright, earthy hops flavor. The beer was juicy. Then it turned crisp, light. It had a firm body. Maybe a little light toast crept through. It finished clean, not too dry, left a nice specter of hops but not harsh. It was a beautiful beer, everything was in line, in focus. Each element on display.
Consistent but more flat off white head. It was brown and orange and bronze, much darker in color. Hops aroma presented itself right away; once again it was piney, more resinous, though and less citrus, possibly a hint a tropical fruit. Maybe. Hops bitterness could be tasted right off but it was also grainy, had a nice malt backing. It was bready but seemed like a bare hint of tin in the very outer edges. It finished very clean, soft. This was not as focused as Beer 1 but no less enjoyable or beautiful, a little dark but completely appealing.
Both had ideal presentations of hops both in aroma and flavor. Beer 1 was brighter and sharper and had a better color (according to the school I went to and the eyes I possess), but Beer 2 had the grainy/malty aspects I prefer to balance the hops. I found myself approving Beer 1 a minuscule amount more due to my perception of its crispness and focus; however, Beer 2 had the more appealing hops, earthier and more resinous and was more drinkable.
Beer 1 was Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Beer 2 was Monolith from Black Bridge. The above were rough notes made on a Sunday evening, just for fun. I’m no actual beer judge, so please make your own determination about what beer you like. See below for some highlights from the Style Guidelines regarding what to look for in a pale ale.
Brewers Association 2017 Beer Style Guidelines:
- Deep golden to copper or light brown
- Chill haze is acceptable at low temperatures. Hop haze is allowable at any temperature.
- Low caramel malt aroma is allowable. Low to medium maltiness may include low caramel malt character.
- Hop aroma and flavor is high, exhibiting floral, fruity (berry, tropical, stone fruit and other), sulfur/diesel-like, onion-garlic- catty, citrusy, piney or resinous character that was originally associated with American-variety hops. Hops with these attributes now also originate from countries other than the USA.
- Medium to medium-high bitterness
- Fruity-estery aroma and flavor may be low to high. Diacetyl should not be perceived.
- Body: Medium
BEER JUDGE CERTIFICATION PROGRAM 2015 STYLE GUIDELINES:
18B. American Pale Ale
- A pale, refreshing and hoppy ale, yet with sufficient supporting malt to make the beer balanced and drinkable.
- An average-strength hop-forward pale American craft beer, generally balanced to be more accessible than modern American IPAs.
- Moderate to strong hop aroma from American or New World hop varieties with a wide range of possible characteristics, including citrus, floral, pine, resinous, spicy, tropical fruit, stone fruit, berry, or melon. Low to moderate maltiness supports the hop presentation, and may optionally show small amounts of specialty malt character (bready, toasty, biscuit, caramelly). Fruity esters vary from moderate to none.
- Pale golden to light amber. Moderately large white to off-white head with good retention. Generally quite clear.
- Moderate to high hop flavor, typically showing an American or New World hop character (citrus, floral, pine, resinous, spicy, tropical fruit, stone fruit, berry, melon, etc.). Low to moderate clean grainy-malt character supports the hop presentation, and may optionally show small amounts of specialty malt character (bready, toasty, biscuity). The balance is typically towards the late hops and bitterness, but the malt presence should be supportive, not distracting.
- Moderate to high hop bitterness with a medium to dry finish. Hop flavor and bitterness often lingers into the finish, but the aftertaste should generally be clean and not harsh.
- Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium body. Moderate to high carbonation.
- Overall smooth finish without astringency and harshness.
- Prior to the explosion in popularity of IPAs, was traditionally the most well-known and popular of American craft beers. Typically lighter in color, cleaner in fermentation by-products, and having less caramel flavors than English counterparts. There can be some overlap in color between American pale ale and American amber ale. The American pale ale will generally be cleaner, have a less caramelly malt profile, less body, and often more finishing hops.