Pale Ales are the bread and butter of the American craft beer industry. You will be hard-pressed to find a craft brewery in America that does not have a pale ale as its anchor, or at least as one of its standard beers. The pale ale style in America originates from England were the term was first used in the early 1700’s as an advertising moniker. By the late 1700’s however, British customers began referring to pale ales as bitters in an effort to differentiate these beers from the less-hopped stouts and porter sof the time. American pale ales evolved to become hoppier cousins of the original style.
The English style from which such luminaries of the American craft beer movement as Ken Grossman, founder of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewery drew inspiration is a much milder and maltier brew. This maltiness is due to the use of English hops, which are much milder than the zesty American hops. English pale ales were originally a draught ale served very fresh under no pressure at cellar temperatures — what we now refer to as firkins. Bitter was created as a draught alternative to country-brewed pale ale around the start of the 20th century and became widespread.
As craft brewers in America embraced the pale ale style, individual differences began to appear. The beers began to take on characteristics analogous to the brewer’s tastes and ideas of what a beer should be. There are many different Pale Ales out there and all have their own characteristics and taste. In an article written last June for the New York Times, a tasting panel of beer lovers and beer journalists judged Flying Dog’s Doggie Style Pale Ale to be the best of American Pale Ales. They report that it does push the limits of the style, though, with its hoppy flavors of pine and citrus. Other top-rated Pale Ales included Long Trail Pale Ale and Stoudt’s American Pale Ale. Sierra Nevada, while an excellent beer and a pioneering company in American craft brewing, did not make the group’s top 10.
Now, if you are looking for an India Pale Ale, still a Pale Ale but much hoppier, there are several outstanding beers to choose from. At the top of the list at Rate Beer, a beer enthusiast web site, is Ale Smith IPA from San Diego’s Ale Smith Brewery, followed closely by Two-Hearted IPA from Bell’s. Both of these are excellent examples of the IPA style and both are brewed in America. Further down the list, but still excellent, is Cigar City’s Humidor Series Jai Alai Cedar Aged IPA. Now that is a beer that really punches up the bitterness factor, yet balances it with enough maltiness to make it a refreshing, drinkable beer that you will definitely enjoy again and again.
Locally, in Jacksonville, FL, you can find several fine examples of pale ales and IPAs brewed with skill and dedication by such breweries as Intuition Ale Works and Bold City Brewery. Peoples Pale Ale is the flagship brew from Intuition and is quickly becoming legend in the Jacksonville area. Bold City’s Chinook IPA employs only Chinook hops for a bold, hoppy flavor and a touch of caramel malts for just the right touch of sweetness.
So, like I said, it really depends on your tastes as to which Pale Ale is the best. There are many opinions and the ones presented here are just a few of those. My best suggestion is to head to your local beer seller and start trying the beers. Many will allow you to “mix and match” a six-pack, which gives you the opportunity to try a number of beers and decide on your own what you like best.