The Session: Pale in Comparison
I was surprised to read The Beer Babe’s assertion in The Session that there’s a certain ambivalence towards Pale Ale in her part of the world. Surely not?
Is it a cultural thing? Is this true, America? Is this true, UK? Are we so conditioned towards hops or extremity in style and taste that there’s no room for a simple, tasty Pale Ale? In certain circles, yes, we probably are.
With the greatest respect, does any other style lend itself to utility as much as Pale Ale? The alcohol content alone usually means it’s the one reached for when the mercury rises, or when the day’s work has been physical and the throat is dry. Pale Ale is the beer that I the most of in my stocks, because when there’s a game on or I’m cooking, that’s what I want.
Many brewers make the mistake of launching their ranges with ‘a hoppy pale ale’.’ Although seemingly easy (as they’ll sell well), this can be a mistake from the respect of taste; Pale Ale offers no refuge to the inexperienced hand, one untrained in balance . Many Pale ales have suffered due to this; dusty, insipid affairs that show no personality of anything; let alone the brewer’s personality.
When done right, the results can be breathtaking. Buxton’s Moor Top is probably my current favourite, but it’s a close tie with Hawkshead’s NZPA. Actually, what about Magic Rock’s Highwire? Mallinson’s Now That’s What I Call Hops series? Kirkstall’s Majestic Three Swords? Oakham’s Citra, Harviestoun’s Bitter and Twisted, Camden’s Pale…the list goes on. Superb Pales, each one different, each one tasty and – perhaps most importantly – easy to drink.
During this mini-heatwave (which seems to be over – so much for summer), I found myself enjoying two pales from the bigger boys of UK Brewing. First up, Adnam’s Ghost Ship (4.5%abv). I’ve been buying this by the armful of late, because it ticks all the boxes for a great warm-weather drinker. The nose is full of Grapefruit pith and lemon-rind, and there’s just about enough malt in the body to back it all up; leaving the beer drying in a pleasant way; not too sweet, not too dry. It’s a deft beer; and one that I’ve enjoyed in bottle more than cask. The bottled version just seems brighter, more effervescent and alive. Wonderful stuff.
I wouldn’t be able t count the amount of Pale Ales out there that have relied on good ol’ Cascade hops to impart the requisite pine-and-citrus profile that modern Pale ales seem to demand. Thwaites’ Triple C (4.4%abv) is simplicity itself; sweeter than Ghost Ship but still refreshingly green in the nose; freshly cut grass battles with Pine in the nose, and all that freshness bobs along on a pronounced digestive-biscuit base.
Both beers are simple, too easy to drink and, importantly, were the right beers at the right time. I just hope that brewers continue to respect the humble Pale Ale, and don’t toss them off as an afterthought or a ‘must-have’ in the range. If you’re going to do it, do it right.