Pale Ales are considered to be the old timers in the craft beer industry. They were one of the very first styles created outside of standard lagers and ales. The history of pale ales reaches back some 300 years ago in England, but since there is so much history of the pale ale style, we will only touch on a few key points about it.
Back in the 1800’s, stouts and porters ruled the area since pale malts were expensive. Brewers in Burton-on-Trent, England were looking for a way to produce a more consistent, pale beer. They created it using coke, which was a process where coal burned at a hot and steady temp, giving them a clearer, paler beer. Once malts started decreasing in price, pale ales started permeating the market, which eventually started pushing stouts and porters out of popularity.
The type of water seemed to be the area in brewing where brewers devoted most of their time. Since Burton’s water was considered the “flagship,” many brewers tried to duplicate the water type since it created such a clean flavor. Pale ales were also called “bitter” to help differentiate between the sweeter or milder ales of those times. It wasn’t until 1980 that Sierra Nevada out of Chico, CA crafted the first pale ale in America. With the use of American malts, this beer had a much crisper, hoppier flavor than that of the English pale ales.
If you’ve ever done a side by side comparison between an American Pale Ale and an English Pale Ale, you will notice a stark contrast in flavor and smoothness. English pale malts are more robust, which give their beer a smoother flavor, whereas American malts give off more of a crisp character. The hops also play a vital role in pale ales. English hops are earthier, while American hops usually give off more of a piney or citrus character. One really doesn’t have to be a beer connoisseur to notice the difference between the 2 styles.
We are definitely grateful for those men who took the time to craft what has become one of the best styles out there. Without the pale ale, where would IPA’s be today? Next time you are at the grocery store, pay your homage to the style by grabbing some Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. It’s still up there with the best of them, 38 years later….