Drunken Speculation

WTF is an American pale ale?

20131105_121317Towards the end of last year, I wrote a piece about American and Australian pale ales. It turned out to be a bit off-the-mark, so I wrote a follow-up called WTF is an Australian pale ale?

Since then, we in Australia have received an influx of imported American beers. Some of them are legit, some less so.

It behoves me then to complete the series I started by taking a more thorough, research-based look at the flipside of Comparing Australian and American pale ales by investigating the few American-made American pale ales I could get my hands on (without spending a small fortune in the process). I could have used locally made American pale ales but I really want to get to the bottom of it from their perspective.

I’ll follow a similar format to last time, so here’s how the tasting notes rolled. For the record, ammo has made some contributions from our first game of Beer Nerd.

Stone Brewing Pale Ale

stone pale ale

  • Stone Brewing are famous even at this end of the world, not least for a deal to import it falling apart on Twitter. This bottle is grey and probably not in the best condition.
  • Dark orange colour
  • Grapefruit, burnt caramel and tea leaf tannin aroma
  • Minimal hoppiness on taste with low background bitterness
  • Medium dry finish with decent viscosity

Sixpoint Sweet Action

sixpoint sweet action

  • Sweet Action is a bit off-style because it qualifies equally as pale ale and cream ale. I’ll look past that.
  • Peach colour, cloudy
  • Sharp, piney flavour poking through the low maltiness
  • Good, solid, low level background bitterness from the hops
  • Relatively creamy mouthfeel (very un-APA-like), medium body with a dry finish

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

sierra nevada pale ale

  • Previous review
  • Light yellow colour, filtered clear
  • Normally pungent pine resin aroma is absent
  • Degrees of sweetness and bitterness, not particularly dry
  • Light body with a smooth mouthfeel

Founders Dry Hop Pale Ale

founders dry hop pale ale

  • Light caramel and grass aroma
  • Crisp hop backbone – herbal, earthy – with low sweet (compared to aroma), light malt
  • Medium to high dry and bitter finish
  • Light body, more fluid, standard pale ale mouthfeel

Los Muertos Brewing Queen of the Night

tecate queen of the night

  • I decided to take a beer from America’s heartland, Mexico, because I wasn’t able to find any more Made in USA APAs
  • Orange colour with a darker head than the others
  • Sweet, sticky maltiness on the nose and the tongue
  • Getting a lot of orange aroma and at a lower level in the taste
  • Bitter with light hopiness
  • Low to medium body with a not particularly dry finish

Interesting collection of notes, not least because travel, age and general care for the beers has obviously played a much greater role in the tasting than for the OzPAs. It seems though, even with a degree of experience about what to expect, that this class of beer shows much greater diversity.

However, to avoid the problem I had last time with accidentally picking beers from other styles, here’s the taxonomy table to prove I had it 80% right this time around.

Beer Untappd BeerAdvocate RateBeer
Stone American PA American PA American PA
Sixpoint Cream ale Cream ale Cream ale
Sierra Nevada American PA American PA American PA
Founders American PA American PA American PA
Los Muertos American PA American PA American PA

So despite representing a wider variety of beer flavour and appearance than the Australian equivalent, the taxonomy of the American pale ales is much better aligned (Sixpoint notwithstanding). By my fairly arbitrary criteria, that suggests the American pale ale is much more firmly established style than the OzPA.

Which leads us to the original question, what is an American pale ale? The above beers all have these characteristics in common: orange to dark orange colour, sometimes unfiltered; medium bodied; hoppy aroma, predominated by grapefruit and other citrus and pine resin; low levels of sweet maltiness; medium bitterness; usually dry finish.

That sounds about right, doesn’t it?

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