American pale ale was among the first truly American craft beer styles, with California breweries like Anchor Brewing Co. and New Albion Brewing Co. putting a distinctive American spin on traditional British bitters in the mid-1970s by using basic two-row malt and citrusy Pacific Northwest hops.
The defining example of the style is Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, first brewed in 1980, which has served as the introductory craft beer for many beer enthusiasts. Showcasing a simple malt bill and Cascade hops, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is hop-forward without the intense bitterness of an India pale ale (IPA).
Of course, when it comes to hops, you can count on California’s craft breweries to produce some enjoyable concoctions, including the following.
AleSmith X Extra Pale Ale
San Diego’s AleSmith Brewing Co. is best known for its high-alcohol brews such as Speedway Stout, but it also brews more subtle beers like the 5.25 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) X Extra Pale Ale. With a light-golden color, a dense white head and light body, X balances malt and hops quite well.
The beer features the classic American hop profile of citrus and pine aroma and flavor, supported by a crisp, crackery malt profile with just a touch of sweetness. Moderate bitterness persists into the finish.
Saint Archer Pale Ale
Also from San Diego, Saint Archer Brewing Co.’s Pale Ale is a sessionable brew due to its mild flavor profile and relatively low 5.5 percent ABV. While the aroma and flavor include piney hop characteristics, they are not very pronounced and come across as one-dimensional. I sampled it on draft and the low carbonation level may have reduced the hop aroma somewhat.
Saint Archer Pale is not a poorly made brew, but it’s not nearly as flavorful or interesting as the similar AleSmith brew. According to Saint Archer, its Pale Ale includes Cascade, Citra, Chinook and Simcoe hops, but I did not perceive much hop complexity.
Lagunitas Equinox Pale Oat Ale
Hazy golden orange in color, the aroma of Equinox combines sugary malt sweetness with citrusy, juicy lemon and lime elements from the Equinox hops to give the impression of 7-Up soda. However, there is no mistaking this for anything but a beer from Petaluma’s Lagunitas Brewing Co.
The addition of oats provides a nice, rich mouthfeel and medium body, and the 8 percent ABV is high for the style but not unpleasant. Earthy, forest floor and piney bitterness from Simcoe hops last into the finish, providing balance to the residual malt sweetness.
Mission Creek Solely Citra
In December, Mission Creek Brewing Co. opened in the Whole Foods Market at 777 The Alameda in San Jose as only the second brewery inside a Whole Foods.
Brewmaster Guy Cameron is especially well known for hoppy beers after previous stints brewing for Russian River Brewing Co. and Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery. He has brewed several pale ales at Mission Creek in the past six months – in addition to Punch List Pale Ale, he has brewed three single-hop pale ales: Solely Sauvin, Solely Mosaic and Solely Citra.
Solely Citra is hazy orange and its aroma reminiscent of cutting into a grapefruit for breakfast at a campsite in a pine forest. The flavor provides a hint of piney dankness up front, followed by the huge tropical fruit flavor of gooseberries, pineapple and grapefruit. The beer finishes quite dry, but fruity hops lend a slight perception of sweetness. At 65 International Bitterness Units, the beer contains more hops than most pale ales (nearly 4 pounds per barrel), but the focus on late hop additions provides the aroma and flavor intensity of an IPA without the perception of bitterness.
Derek Wolfgram is chief operating officer for the Silicon Valley Sudzers Homebrew Club. For more information, visit sudzers.org.