prep day: Quotidian Pale Ale

Back in my day, when we had a gold-to-amber colored hoppy ale that was about 4.5% abv, we didn’t call it Session IPA. We called it “pale ale.” It was bitter but balanced, reasonable about its alcohol content, and it smelled like grapefruit and pine trees and cat piss … and we liked it that way. 

Hoppy, standard-gravity, top-fermented beer from North America. Call it whatever you want, it’s far and away one of my favorite kinds of beer. But let’s be honest: pale ale isn’t sexy or extreme anymore, and the three letters “IPA” have become semiotic for drinkers and a marketing lever for the industry.

From a business standpoint: everybody loves IPA, everybody wants IPA, everybody buys IPA, so there’s a certain amount of market pressure on the contemporary American craft brewery to produce one. IPAs tend to occupy a lot of shelf and cooler space in stores and tank space in breweries’ portfolios these days.

And as far as the beer-drinking public: when was the last time you heard somebody take the time to luxuriously drawl out “India Pale Ale,” like it’s still the Raj and the top speed of a motor carriage is 20 furlongs per hour?

No, it’s IPA, just the acronym, please, we’re in a hurry; and I posit that – just like American IPA as a style progressed from a mere interpretation of English IPA into something distinct, self-contained, and enormous – the acronym has taken on a meaning of its own. That’s why I was a bit noplussed by the fooferaw over the percieved oxymoron of “Black IPA” a couple years ago … sure, the “P” technically stands for “pale,” but come on: we all know that “IPA” really just means “lots and lots of citrusy hops, abv north of 6%,” terminology and history be damned.

Let it be said that I love me a good American IPA, waxy and acidic and chunky with dry hops, unapologetic about its booze-inducing big malt bills; and that I’ve had some tasty beers that are labeled as “Session IPA” or some variation thereof.

But my personal opinion is that when you take this very sound, very delicious American IPA concept and reduce the abv% to “session” levels (whatever your personal definition of that may be, we’ll save that for another post), then – semiotics and marketing completely aside – what we’re now working with is good ol’ missionary position, workaday American pale ale.

And I’m fixin’ to brew one.

What do you like in yours? Cascade? Centennial? Simcarillocitra? Nelson Sauvin? CTZ? EKG? HBC342? Yes Munich malt? No Munich malt?

And I’m out of the loop on new products for the homebrewers these days – how’s the BN’s DVD? Any book reports for us, readers?

Pictured on DVD sleeve (l-r): some homeless guy, Matt Brynildson

Recipe and brew day pics forthcoming. Stay old and grumpy, citizens.

40 thoughts on “prep day: Quotidian Pale Ale

  1. Great article…couldn’t agree more with you.
    Not sure what happened to Brewing TV but I was hoping it was coming back….

  2. Usually Cascades straight through.. bit of Biscuit and Crystal.. 4.5-5% ABV. Simple.. sessionable. Growing up with Alaskan Brewery in my backyard. Pale ale is what got me into craft beer and is very near and dear to my heart. I usually have one going or on standby always.

  3. I intended to brew an IPA, but ended up with a pale ale that was one of the best I’ve ever brewed (it was even voted “best beer of the night” at our HB club meeting). Loads of Citra in the kettle, and heavily dry-hopped with Nelson, Pac Jade, and Zythos. No Munich, but some wheat and a touch, iirc, of Vienna. Instantly became a house beer, edging out my version of Gordon Strong’s pale ale from “Brewing Better Beer.”

  4. Cascades straight through.. Bit of Biscuit and C-40. 4.5-5% abv. Growing up with Alaskan Brewery in my backyard their Pale is what got me into craft beer and eventually home brewing. Don’t get me wrong.. I love me some IPA, but a simple Pale is still one of my favorite styles.

  5. Here here. Agree totally.

    I prefer it when they refer to Black IPA’s as Black Ales, because the spectrum of commercial examples range from nice and mildly hoppy, to “OMG I just stuck my head into a bag of whole leafs and now I’m drinking a plant” hoppy.

    I did recently try a pale ale with only Mosaic hops. I can’t say I’d recommend it. As a bittering hop it was pretty pleasant, and even flavor-wise it was nice, but as an aroma hop it gave off too much of that simcoe-cat-pee smell for me to say it was a great beer. Otherwise, I just tend to stick with Centennial and Cascade. Hard to argue with tried and true.

      • I too have a 100% Mosaic pale ale on tap, and I have to say I LOVE it… at first it had a decent amount of a green onion flavor to it, that I was not thrilled about at all, but after a week or two that mellowed out and I just love the flavor/ aroma Mosaic brings

  6. I’ve had APA on the brain for the last couple weeks. Brewing one up next week, got me some mosaic and imma gonna use it.

  7. Preach brother!

    I tend to brew lighter colored pale ales. No crystal malt over 40L. I’ve been experimenting with blending different ratios of american 2-row and english pale malt. I think I’ve settled on 4:1 american to english. If not some munich or victory malt is nice.

    As for hops? Anything goes. I like something different everytime. But one of my favorite combo’s has been mostly Centennial, Cascade, with a subtle EKG, Chinook and Crystal. Fruity, piney, and peppery. Yum.

    I have to honestly say I get most excited now a days when I see a brewery come out with something they are willing to call a Pale Ale. Lately I’ve been consuming mass quantities of Victory Headwaters and Terrapin’s Easy Rider.

  8. Looking forward to the brew day info. The wife isn’t into IPAs so we haven’t brewed one since she is my co-brewer. We are now kegging and I know I could easily kill a keg of a delicious citrusy IPA myself so I am looking to brew one. Something the wife does love is a tart refreshing belgian wit. I would love to read your take sir. Thanks again for the bloggings.

  9. Good stuff, Mr. Dawson!

    Pale Ale, in the humble opinion of this homebrewer, is all about keeping it simple. Forget complicated malt bills, specialty grains, brettanomyces and whatever the latest great aroma hop is called. Keep it simple: Plain ol’ 2-row, Cascade hops (or another versatile citrus hop), and your favourite brand of clean american ale yeast. I must confess that I have a thing for simple beers, and this stone-age APA is certainly one of them (we’ve dubbed this particular one “Humble Motherfucker”), but I do believe that this style in particular awards simplicity in formulation.

  10. Standard 2-row abit of munich and crystal, magnum or bravo for bittering and lots of Centennial/Amarillo and Citra late additions and dry hop combinations are always different. Tried some Mosaic (1oz) DH’d in the last batch and it came out realy good.
    Recently trid “Hop standing” on an IPA and a Hoppy Amber. Pretty good results so far.

  11. 1. Munich malt, crystal-40ish and crystal-75ish often find a home in my pale ale grists, although only in small portions (i.e. no more than 5% individually). Sometimes I use Carapils, too. I prefer OG=14-16°P for my pale ales and I ALWAYS ferment with WY1056 or US-05; I have effectively yanked the green card for English yeast strains in my home brewery. What about hops? Preferred cultivars include Citra, Amarillo, Centennial (my goodness, this guy always stops by to party in my pale ales), Moteuka, Nelson Sauvin, Pacific Jade and sometimes Chinook. Bittering charges? Warrior or Super Alpha and NEVER Summit. I love me some Lagunitas, but I immediately know when they use Summit in their products because, IMHO, the garlic/onion/B.O. notes just ruins the flavor of the finished beer. I don’t like Simcoe, so I chose not to use it anymore. To me it’s an overrated cultivar that’s catty and hard to obtain. Kettle additions? I “wack” (Brynildson) the wort pretty hard at 60 min with my bittering charge and nothing more until about 10 minutes left in the boil. A majority of my kettle hops (>80%) don’t make an appearance until K/O, and I do a 20 min hopstand with the kettle covered at elevated, but not boiling, temperatures before chilling my wort. I will dry hop the hell out of the beer with pellet hops at days 4-5 of primary fermentation with the yeast still present. The beer gets 3 days of contact time, cold crashed to 35°F for a 2-3 days and then racked to a keg to be force carbonated.
    2. I highly recommend BN’s Pale Ale DVD. To be honest, though, my opinion might be slightly skewed because of my apparent man-crush on Matt Brynildson, but whatevs.

  12. Glad you put this out there. I have been thinking along these lines for quite a while. It used to bother me (not much, I mean we are talking about beer here!) when someone classified their beer as a Black IPA. IPA has become the ESB of yesteryear. I’ll bet most Redhook drinkers have no clue or even care what ESB stands for. I suspect we’ll get there with IPA as well. I don’t see why we can’t start calling a reddish hued IPA an Amber IPA or even a light colored one a Pale IPA 🙂 It would not surprise me if at some point the BJCP makes a new category called American IPA that has sub classes of Pale, Amber and Dark.

    As far as pale ales go. I like to use a good pale malt like Maris Otter and a touch of crystal 40 for some caramel goodness. I’ve moved to using a mix of cascade (mid boil) and amarillo (late boil/dry) hops along with something neutral like Magnum for bittering. I try to keep the beer under 5.0%, so that I can drink multiple pints, that way I can make more rater quickly, so that I can drink multiple pints, …

  13. On point, Mr. Dawson. I’ve had the same thought nicking at me for a while now and I submit the blurring of style lines is really starting to get a touch out of hand with more than a few commercial craft brewers. Recently, I tried Founder’s All Day IPA, which is a perfect example to what you stated above. Simple malt profile, low abv, big grapefruit hops, called a session IPA. No my friends, that’s is a pale ale. Regardless, marketing be damned, if I have another “session IPA” *cough* pale ale or hoppy, deep brown, acidic “American Brown Ale” *cough* baltic porter *cough* I’m writing someone a letter. 🙂

  14. I used Citra and Cascade in my last PA with great results. Used 2 row, carapils and carmel 40. Citra for bittering, a combination of citra and cascade both for aroma and flavor additions, then dry hopped with citra and cascade. With white labs cali. The beer is clean, and refreshing. and at about 4.5-5% Abv you can drink a bit of it. I agree the “session” needed to be dropped, the problem is most peoples Pales Ales are really in the IPA range, so session has become its new name. Id like to see the traditional Pale ale see a come back!

  15. Fawesome post mr Dawson. Well said!

    On Deck APA:
    60/40 blend of MO and Rahr Pale
    3% C10
    Mash at 150
    Bitter with magnum, flavor with CTZ, FF and Simcoe to about 50 BU’s (theoretically). Same blend in the DH. Normally I’m not all high Alfa, but it’s what’s in the freezer. And I’m in the mood for a dank litterbox APA.

  16. Ah the American Pale Ale. My second favorite beer to brew. My brew club members are PA freaks, often no matter what else is on tap, the PA is frequented most often.

    As for me I’m pretty simple with my grist, 2-Row, Munich, Crystal 40. Did throw in some Rye last time, and it damn tasty (Reminds me, I have more gallons of that to drink). I’ll vary the hops depending on what I have on hand. I’ll brew a PA variation about every other month.

    I am usually just a 1056 guy, but will be branching out to other yeasts this year. I’ve used the croppings of a local breweries Anchor Liberty with great success.

  17. Great post, well no, more of a proper article really worthy of any beer rag. Ditto to the MO Rahr blend to get some malt flavor depth the old fashioned way.

  18. I like the caramel to just peek its head out a bit – a la Widmer Brothers Drifter Pale Ale. Maybe 8 percent of C 40, 8 percent munich, and balance 2 row. After going on a 2 year IPA walkabout, I’ve come back to the pale. Good reminder to get planning the next PA brew day! – Cheers

  19. I roll with a dash of Munich (5-8% based in what I have left over). Zythos is my go-to-don’t-want-to-think-about-it-too-hard hop. Like when I just want to sit in the garage, read a book, and brew a beer with minimal complication. Centennial bittering if I have it, maybe a citra kicker. Different every time, but always a beauty.

  20. Cascade, Amarillo, and NS go nicely together as flavouring and aroma with Perle and Magnum for bittering. A touch of honey malt is nice mixed into the mash makes for a nice sweetness to balance out the bitterness

  21. On top of all of the other suggestions, if you haven’t used it yet, try Wyeast 1332. I used it for a Two Brothers The Bitter End APA clone it is an awesome yeast. It leaves just a bit of the maltiness to it (which I like and find that it adds a little complexity) and still really lets the hops shine. I am a huge fan of 1056 in IPA’s, but as the blog states, this is not an IPA, so why not use a different yeast.

    For hops, I’m a Centennial, Cascade and Mt. Hood fan in my APA’s.

  22. I just brewed one using 100% topaz, because I been using them in other beers, and I really love the smell, so I wanted to taste them alone to understand what it is all about. I brewed an IPA a few months ago using all Australian hops, and this one just really stuck in my head, so I ordered a pound, and when the store filled out the order, the guy wrote on the slip “I love this hop.” So this keeps me optimistic.

  23. Pale ales are great. Too many are getting lost in the hop madness…I like balance and I’ve had it with major hop bombs designed to reduce your palate to a barely functional liquid pass through. And ABV skyrockets are unnecessary – I’d rather be able to talk after a few. But that’s me. Carry on.

  24. I prefer the APA to the most of fat in the middle IPAs. I like centennial, cascade, and sometimes chinook for hops, and use British Ale yeast, esp wy1335 and wy1469 for a more fruity profile.

  25. I think it depends on how you think of the differences between pale ales and IPAs. If you think of an IPA as a pale that’s been turned up across the board, then what you say makes sense. But since they’re both hop driven beers, you can also think about the difference in terms of balance. The Session IPAs that legitimately bear the name (at least in my mind) have a balance that’s more like that of an IPA or IIPA than a pale ale. When I drink one like that, I’m thinking IPA not pale ale regardless of the alcohol content.

  26. My house experimental beer is 10lbs of 2 row with 2 lbs of honey malt. To that I experiment with Centennial, warrior, magnum, pearle, and cascade. Single infusion mash at 154 for 45 minutes.

  27. Pingback: QPA: update | the beer engine

  28. Great Article!

    I’m planning on brewing a nice Session Pale Ale (SPA?) for the summer. Thinking about a grist of Palemalt & Munich malt (and maybe some Vienna?). For hops I thought to use some Magnum for a clean bittercharge and some Nelson Sauvin for Aroma, Flame-out & Dry-hopping.

    How does that sound to you?

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  31. I was always uneasy about the style name “American Amber Ale” which I guess is as vague as Munchner Hell. Amber should really be called “American Caramel-Hot-Fudge Sundae Ale (ACHFSA)”.with its 15%+ crystal and 2% chocolate malts combining into what I consider a dessert beer… my theory is our (Americans) tastebuds and sense of smell have become muted by intestinal imbalance that manifests in a candida yeast overgrowth on the tongue and nose caused by our wonderful industrial food here that has made it a necessity to intensify flavors and aromas with more and more malt and hops. Read web reviews of subtle beers and you’ll see some people who obviously have a coated tongue and nose saying there’s no flavor or doesn’t smell like anything, but the same reviewers will rate a ferociously perfumy beer highly that I can’t even be in the same room with. Also good to keep this in mind when reading homebrew posts of guys who say, “my beer tastes fine and I always do [something you would never even think of allowing into your brewing process]”… bs, I want to taste that beer!

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