When I was new to good beer (circa the early 1990s) pale ales were my gateway beer to quality ales broadly. (This was back when I was thrilled if a bar in New York City had Sierra Nevada on tap.) Pales are approachable with moderate alcohol content and, typically, are well-balanced. And, early on they were the standard bearer of the craft beer movement, often serving as many breweries flagship ale. They’ve long since been supplanted by India Pale Ale as the style every brewery has in its line up.
As so-called extreme beers exploded on the scene, pales came to seem insufficiently assertive. I know my palate changed to crave bigger, bolder beers. (And I don’t think I’m alone). And with that change pale ales could often seem lacking, certainly in hop content but in body and size as well.
And that’s a shame because the style is as refined as any. Pales come in a great variety that appeals to a broad range of tastes. Depending on what a brewer chooses to emphasize, they can be assertively hopped (they’re often dry-hopped) to showcase the bitter, bright hoppy side of things or can focus on malt sweetness, with some examples expressing caramel sweetness. As a home brewer pales are ideal. They can be fine-tuned to fit your individual preference and taste buds. Their moderate alcohol content makes them somewhat sessionable, which is useful when you’ve got a basement full of beer.
A pale ale I recently tasted reminded me that I once loved the style. And that reminder also made me realize I’d never brewed one. I’d gone right to IPA and overlooked pales altogether....