Drunken Speculation

WTF is an Australian pale ale?

tt coopers pale ale (3)Since writing a piece comparing Australian and American pale ales, I’ve been consumed by a burning question: What about Stone & Wood? This question was the first thing out of ammo’s mouth after I explained the concept behind the article. My response was along the lines of, “Aw crap”.

Previously, I suggested that the Australian pale ale is closer to the English style, malt-forward and primarily focussed on bittering hops (e.g. Pride of Ringwood). The American style is definitively hop forward, using the piney, resinous notes we associate with New World hops to great effect. Stone & Wood’s Pacific Ale is an Australian pale ale that makes great use of Galaxy hops to create a very fruity aroma and strong passionfruit flavours. So where does a local fruity pale ale fit in?

As with just about any problem to do with beer, I decided my answer lay at the bottom of a bottle. I decided to road test a few Australian pale ales – as classified by Untappd – and see what I could discover about our native style.

Initially, I worked on a hypothesis that there was a classic OzPA variant (e.g. Coopers Original) and a modern OzPA variant (e.g. Stone & Wood Pacific). The modern variation is essentially the same as the classic but uses different, but still characteristically Australian, hops to bring forth some character that we would associate with today’s concept of craft beer.

Here are my tasting notes:

Stone & Wood Pacific Ale

stone wood pacific ale

  • Cut grass, fruity aroma
  • Minimal passionfruit but pretty sure this is an old bottle (can confirm draught is fruity as fuck) but getting a bit of pineapple
  • Dry and refreshing
  • Modern OzPA

Coopers Original Pale Ale

coopers original pale ale

  • Minimal maltiness but a definite bitter kick on the finish
  • Has a strong Ringwood-iness in the aftertaste
  • Pleasant and sessionable but not hugely flavoursome
  • Classic OzPA

Cascade Pale Ale

cascade pale ale

  • No aroma
  • Awful macrolager taste and astringency
  • Minimal body
  • Actually, it’s an English pale ale (shit, both the beer and the fact I bought it without checking)

McLaren Vale/Ale

mclaren vale ale

  • Previously reviewed here
  • Lightly hoppy aroma, suggesting fruit
  • Pleasant flavour, mild traces of generic fruitiness
  • Big whack of dry bitterness on the finish
  • Classic OzPA

James Squire 150 Lashes

james squire 150 lashes

  • Strong passionfruit aroma
  • Minor bitter finish but much sweeter than the other examples
  • Fairly unpalatable malts but those who can stomach Tooheys will find the leap across fairly small
  • Modern OzPA

Murray’s Angry Man Pale Ale

murrays angry man

  • Big fruity aroma
  • More body than the others
  • Bitter kick and a dry finish
  • Described as “herbacious” by my co-blogger
  • Turns out it’s an American pale ale (this one was worth drinking but still irritating)

Endeavour Reserve 2012 Pale Ale

endeavour reserve pale ale 2012

  • Aroma was bitter and smoky
  • Aroma was sweet with strawberries?
  • Bugger all aroma
  • Bugger all flavour
  • Think it was aged too long
  • Inconclusive, due to a lack of data

Nail Ale Pale Ale

nail ale pale ale

  • Dinner beer and apparently the first time the bartender had been asked for this specific beer by name
  • Low bitterness
  • Surprising malt profile (caramel) with minimal hops
  • Served too cold for aroma
  • Probably classic OzPA

Besides my idea that the OzPA is malt-forward being well off the mark, what we find is an Australian pale ale is bitter; dry; light straw to golden colour, sometimes cloudy; low bodied; medium carbonated; where aromatic hops are present, fruitiness is imparted (the “modern” variation).

However, this could describe any pale ale. There’s nothing uniquely Australian about it. While entirely accidental, the fact that the Murray’s and Cascade fit in with similar tasting notes suggests that the concept of the Australian pale ale is a marketing gimmick designed to sell beers to suckers like me. Surely not!

I thought maybe Untappd was leading me on, so I checked RateBeer and BeerAdvocate for their thoughts:

Beer Untappd BeerAdvocate RateBeer
Coopers OzPA English PA Golden Ale
Stone & Wood OzPA American PA Golden Ale
Cascade English PA English PA Pale Lager
McLaren Vale OzPA American PA American PA
Murray’s American PA American PA American PA
Endeavour OzPA American PA American PA
Nail OzPA English Bitter English PA

Shit, now I’m really confused. Cascade Pale Ale is a lager and Nail Ale, which has the words “Australian Pale Ale” emblazoned on the label, is an English bitter? Either these sites are full of crap or Australian pale ales could just as easily be other, better established styles of beer.

Just like comparing porter and stout, this is a debate that could rage on. There’s a romantic patriot within me that wants the Australian pale ale style to exist just so we as a nation have something to contribute to the world of beer taxonomy but the rationalist in me suggests a better classification system would dispense with the OzPA.

3 comments

  1. Great research guys, and the table shows how freaking hard it is to classify styles – taxonomy porn indeed. I personally find the Nail to be very English, and technically (another debate in itself really) an English Bitter is a subset of the Pale Ale.

    Given the Galaxy-ness, and it’s far east coast sensibilities, I reckon the S&W is most representative of a style I’d like to call an OzPA. Unfortunately most OzPA is via packaging/marketing/labelling, and probably trying to appeal to the ‘romantic patriots’.

    Finally – the Archive bartender hadn’t heard of Nail?

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