The Session #64/Fermentation Friday: Pale Ales

20120601-141411.jpgThis post is part of The Session which is hosted by The Beer Babe this month. I had grand plans of merrily blogging away on the 4+ hour Megabus ride to Boston this morning. But alas, a Coach bus with no wifi was substituted and I am relegated to thumb typing on my iPhone. On to the subject at hand…pale ales.

The first beer that I ever brewed was a pale ale. Brewed from a kit that I purchased at the hydroponics shop in Queens, it was certainly drinkable, but lacked hop character and distinction. I’ve made quite a few pale ales since then, but none that lie within traditional guidelines, instead usually non-traditional hops, adding fruit & spices and funking them up. I tend to go through pale ale stages, both in drinking & brewing. It’s often a style I take for granted – Sierra Nevada Pale Ale taps are ubiquitous these days and tend to blend into the woodwork for me among the smokes, sours and saisons at 20 tap craft beer bars. Don’t get me wrong – SNPA is a highly quaffable beverage and I’m always delighted to order it at airport bars, work functions, cheesy rooftop bars and other places where it’s often the only craft beer available. And I enjoy other American Pale Ales from time to time (the Hill Farmstead Edward is a delicious example) but it’s not a style that usually catches my eye on draft menus. And that’s even more true with English Pale Ales. I’d even go so far to say that that is a style I tend to avoid. Although I drank a lot of them on a trip to London a few years ago, I never order them in America. Perhaps it’s because they tend to not be at their freshest over here or maybe I just find them subtle to the point of boring against the more stimulating American sours and IPAs. I even avoid judging these styles in homebrew competitions, always preferring sours, smoked beers and other specialty categories. Suffice it to say, both American and English Pale Ales are underrepresented in my drinking and brewing repertoires. So I set out last night to gain a new perspective. I hit the jackpot only a few blocks from my apartment at Freddy’s Bar where both Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Fuller’s London Pride were on tap. The bartender was kind enough to pour me two half pints and I carried them out to the bar’s backyard for some thoughtful tasting in the twilight. (note: according to the BJCP guidelines, which is my go-to for style reference, London Pride is a Special/Best/Premium Bitter but it can be argued that bitters and EPAs are the same with differences only in degrees of ABV, IBU, etc. Close enough for me.)

My notes on the two:

Fuller’s London Pride:

Aroma: caramel and a hint of butter in the aroma

Flavor: light caramel, moderate bitterness which lasts after swallow, lightly fruity, esp after swallow, caramel remains after the swallow as well

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale:

Aroma: citrus

Flavor: lightly bready, citrus, earthiness, bitterness moderate to high, esp at end and after swallow

The beers were extremely similar in color. The most noticeable difference in aroma and flavor was the caramel quality of the London Pride. The Sierra had a citrus quality that the LP lacked as well as a higher carbonation and slightly lighter mouth feel.

I really enjoyed both beers – very quaffable, especially on a warm Spring evening. And I’m be much more inclined to order either of them in the future – they’re easy-drinking yet flavorful brews.

Let’s take a look at homebrewing these two beers.

Brew Your Own magazine has a darn good article and recipe on how to brew a Fuller’s London Pride clone. I had no idea that they used the same grist and blended back to get those 4 beers. Now I really want to do a side-by-side tasting of the four. And possible some experiment home brewing using that technique and 3 gallon Better Bottles. Hmmm.

These two recipes are a good start for cloning a Sierra Nevada:

http://www.blackbucketbrew.com/sierra-nevada-pale-ale-clone/

http://home.comcast.net/~wnevits/wizards/snclone.htm

I haven’t tried either recipe, but the SN website lists the ingredients as two-row pale & caramel malt, Magnum & Perle hops for bittering and Cascade hops for finishing.

This was a nice exercise in style comparisons, something that I really enjoy and do far too infrequently. It also begs me to do a post on the endless creative options for the style. Cheers to future musings and highly drinkable pale ales!

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