Pale Perfection: A Guide to the Best Pale Ales in Local Pubs and Bars
As a true beer enthusiast, there’s a special kind of satisfaction in discovering a new pale ale that makes your taste buds sing. In recent years, there’s been a surge of outstanding pale ales in pubs and bars across the country, catering to the ever-growing audience of craft beer aficionados. In this guide to the best pale ales in local pubs and bars, we’re going to dive into the fascinating world of pale ales, explore the top pale ale styles, and provide recommendations for some outstanding brews that you should definitely try out. Grab your pint glass and let’s get started!
A Brief History of Pale Ales
Pale ales have a rich history that dates back centuries, originating in England in the early 18th century. The term “pale ale” refers to a type of beer that is brewed from pale malt made using coke-fired malting, a method that allowed for a lighter-colored malt compared to the previously used wood-fired methods. The advent of coke-fired malting marked a turning point in the beer industry, as it enabled brewers to create a wider variety of beer styles, including the now universally popular pale ale.
While pale ales have been a staple in the British beer scene for centuries, their popularity soared in the United States starting from the early 1980s. The craft beer revolution brought forth a renewed appreciation for quality, flavor, and variety in the beer world, turning pale ales into one of the most beloved beer styles today.
What Makes a Pale Ale?
The term “pale ale” is often used as a catch-all category that encompasses a wide spectrum of beer styles. However, there are certain characteristics that most pale ales share, which include:
- Color: As the name suggests, pale ales are generally lighter in color, ranging from golden to amber hues.
Hoppy Flavor: While pale ales can vary greatly in terms of their hop profile, most tend to be moderately hoppy, offering a pleasant balance of bitterness and aroma.
Malt Backbone: A solid malt backbone is an essential component of most pale ales, providing a nice counterbalance to the bitterness and showcasing a range of sweet, biscuity, or caramel-like flavors.
Moderate to High Carbonation: The level of carbonation in a pale ale can range from moderate to high, adding to the overall refreshment factor of the beer.
Top Pale Ale Styles
Now that we’ve covered the basics of what constitutes a pale ale, it’s time to delve into the top pale ale styles. While there are countless subcategories and variations, there are six primary styles of pale ales that you’re likely to encounter in your local pubs and bars.
1. English Pale Ale
Sometimes referred to as “bitter,” English pale ales are the OG of the pale ale world. Exhibiting a beautiful balance between malt and hops, English pale ales typically showcase flavors of biscuit, bread crust, and toffee, accompanied by a moderate hop bitterness and a grassy or floral hop aroma. These beers tend to have a dry finish, making them highly quaffable and perfect for a cozy pub setting.
- Fuller’s London Pride
- Marston’s Pedigree
- Timothy Taylor Landlord
2. American Pale Ale (APA)
The American cousin of the English pale ale, APAs showcase a more assertive hop character and often use American hops, which impart citrus, pine, and tropical fruit flavors and aromas. The malt profile of an APA tends to take a backseat to the hops, though you’ll still find some sweetness and bready notes to provide a balance. APAs are incredibly popular in the U.S. and have become a staple in nearly every craft brewery’s lineup.
- Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
- Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale
- Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale
3. India Pale Ale (IPA)
IPAs are the big brother of APAs in terms of hop intensity, boasting a higher level of hop bitterness, flavor, and aroma. While the line between IPAs and pale ales can sometimes be blurry, IPAs generally feature a more substantial malt backbone and a higher alcohol content. There are several subcategories of IPAs, including English, American, West Coast, New England (Hazy), and Double (Imperial) IPAs, each with its own unique characteristics.
- Bell’s Two Hearted Ale
- Russian River Pliny the Elder
- New England Brewing Co. Fuzzy Baby Ducks
4. Amber Ale
Amber ales are a step up in color and maltiness compared to their paler counterparts. These beers showcase a range of caramel, toffee, and toasted malt flavors, balanced by a moderate hop presence. Amber ales can be broadly split into two categories: American Amber Ales, which tend to be hoppier and more assertive, and English Amber Ales, which are typically maltier and more subdued.
- New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale
- Alaskan Amber
- Troegs HopBack Amber Ale
5. Blonde Ale
Blonde ales are the lightest of the pale ale family in terms of color and body, providing a crisp and refreshing drinking experience. With a mild malt character and low hop bitterness, these beers are highly approachable and perfect for those who are new to the world of craft beer or simply looking for an easy-drinking pint.
- 805 Blonde Ale
- Kona Brewing Co. Big Wave Golden Ale
- Great Divide Samurai Rice Ale
6. Belgian Pale Ale
Belgian pale ales are a unique and complex category, featuring the distinctive fruity and spicy flavors imparted by Belgian yeast strains. These beers often showcase a nice balance between malt and hops, with an emphasis on the yeasty esters that set them apart from their British and American counterparts.
- Brasserie Dupont Bière de Belœil
Finding the Perfect Pale Ale at Your Local Pub or Bar
Armed with this knowledge of the top pale ale styles, you’re ready to embark on a journey of pale ale discovery at your local pubs and bars. Here are some tips to help you find the perfect pint:
- Ask your bartender or server for recommendations: Pubs and bars often have rotating taps or a changing selection of bottled and canned beers. Don’t hesitate to ask your bartender or server for their personal favorite pale ale or any newcomers to the lineup.
Sample a flight: Many bars and breweries offer beer flights, which allow you to sample several smaller pours of different beers. This is a great way to try a variety of pale ales in one sitting and discover new favorites.
Participate in beer events: Keep an eye out for local beer events, such as tap takeovers, beer festivals, and tasting events. These gatherings can expose you to a broader range of pale ales and offer opportunities to chat with brewers and fellow beer enthusiasts.
Document your favorites: With the vast assortment of pale ales out there, it’s easy to lose track of your favorites. Consider keeping a beer journal or using a beer-rating app like Untappd to log your tasting experiences and remember the standouts.
Explore beyond your comfort zone: Finally, don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and try pale ale styles that you haven’t experienced before. You never know when you might discover a new favorite!
Pale ales offer an incredibly diverse range of flavors and styles, ensuring that there’s something for every beer lover to enjoy. In this guide, we’ve explored the origins of pale ales, the top pale ale styles, and provided some mouth-watering examples to seek out during your next visit to your local pub or bar. As you continue your journey into the world of pale ales, remember that the true joy of beer exploration lies in the camaraderie, conversation, and shared experiences with friends and fellow beer aficionados. So raise a glass, and here’s to pale perfection! Cheers!