As summer nears, many people’s beer choices change. This doesn’t mean that you should be blasting through a bunch of flavorless macro lagers, but you may not want to crush a bunch of high-alcohol, complex, full-bodied Double IPAs, Porters, or Stouts. Most American pale ales are reasonably hoppy, but usually possess a lower alcohol content than their IPA brethren. Usually, as you’ll find out, doesn’t mean always.
The American Pale Ale, the primary catalyst for the modern craft pale ale, was originated as a popular a style in 1980 by Sierra Nevada. Their pale ale has remained one of the world’s greatest examples of a craft pale ale since then. Since then breweries have switched up malt profiles, played with hop ratios, and created countless alternatives to Sierra Nevada’s pale ale, and while many of them fall short of the original SNPA – there are plenty of them that have stepped up to the challenge. Check out the 15 best American Pale Ales below.
Three Floyds Zombie Dust
In a judged competition you might find some judges giving crooked looks at Zombie Dust’s adherence to the most strict standards of what constitutes a pale ale. Zombie Dust is incredibly hop forward. And at 6.4 percent ABV, it isn’t the most “crushable” pale ale on the market. We aren’t worried about what the judges think, though, and if 3 Floyds calls Zombie Dust a standard pale ale, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
For years, had we been posed the question “what makes a good pale ale?” we’d have looked no further than Sierra Nevada. With basically perfect balance, Sierra Nevada has enough hop presence to satiate a hop head while remaining plenty drinkable. Wide distribution and an affordable price point also work in Sierra Nevada’s favor.
Deschutes Hop Trip
There are very few breweries in the world that use fresher hops for any of their beers than Hop Trip. Deschutes Brewing resides at the very southern end of the Oregon, just east of the Cascade Mountain Range. A huge chunk of the world’s hop population comes from the Yakima and Willamette valleys that sit adjacent to the Cascades which run through Washington and Oregon. Hop Trip’s hops are picked in Salem, Oregon. They’re processed just four hours before they hit the brew kettle, and are the star of the show in this fresh hopped pale ale.
Great Divide Fresh Hop Pale Ale
Best known for their Yeti Imperial Stout, Great Divide Brewing has also cut its teeth substantially so far as fresh hopped beer is concerned. This pale ale is brewed with wet, fresh, cone hops from the Pacific Northwest.
Half Acre Daisy Cutter Pale Ale
With a nose that immediately reminds one of some of the hoppiest IPAs, Half Acre’s Daisy Cutter Pale Ale is a great choice for hop lovers. Daisy Cutter is generally rated very highly, and many of its bad ratings are people who in fact thought it was an IPA. At 5.2 percent ABV, you can drink Daisy Cutter for hours on end.
Widmer Drifter Pale Ale
One day early in our beer drinking careers we walked into a bar and saw a tap handle with a ring buoy on it. These buoy’s are usually used to save people who have fallen overboard on a ship. This day, after a hard day’s work, we needed the ring buoy and ordered a pitcher of Drifter Pale Ale. Some of our friends didn’t like it so much, but after one sip we knew that we’d gladly sacrifice our waistlines to finish the pitcher ourselves. Drifter is balanced, and subtly hoppy, and can keep even the most wayward drifter afloat.
Georgetown Manny’s Pale Ale
Named after one of Georgetown’s owners, Manny’s Pale Ale is almost completely ubiquitous in Washington State. Manny’s is unfiltered, but remains crisp, sweet, and hoppy. At 5.4 percent ABV, you can probably ride with Manny’s for as long as you’re able to ride a bar stool, as this beer us unfortunately only available on draft.
Big Sky Trout Slayer Wheat Pale Ale
One of less than 40 breweries in Montana, Big Sky’s Trout Slayer is one of the best in the semi-obscure category of wheat pale ales. With a wheat-forward malt profile, Trout Slayer drinks differently than some of the other beers on this list. With an ABV below 5.0, this Trout Slayer makes a good companion when one decides to head to the lake to slay some trout.
Full Sail Pale Ale
Not every beer drinker is dying to have their palate inundated with hops. Full Sail’s 37 IBU is fairly low for a pale ale, and this beer makes its malt profile the star of the show. This is a good beer for those being introduced to the style. It’s hop flavor is far from offensive, and a good early building block for hop appreciation.
Odell Easy Street Wheat Pale Ale
Another wheat pale, but Easy Street is quite a bit different from Trout Slayer, with hop aroma that far exceeds its 15 IBU rating. Easy Street goes down smooth, indicated both by its name and its 4.6 percent ABV. Don’t be scared of the yeast that ends up in your vessel of choice. Wheat beers are often heavily influenced by the flavor imparted from yeast.
Flesk Occam’s Razor SMaSH Pale Ale
In our recent travels, we stumbled through a small suburb of Chicago called Lombard, and discovered a diamond in the relative rough. Occam’s Razor is a SMaSH Ale, which means Single Malt and Single Hop. This pale is brewed using exclusively Pilsen malt, and increasingly renouned Nelson Sauvin hops. Don’t let this beer’s 44 IBU fool you, it packs a hop punch, and really isolates the flavors of two delicious beer components.
Lagunitas Lil Sumpin Sumpin Wheat Pale Ale
Billed as a pale ale, Lil Sumpin Sumpin drinks a lot more like an IPA. This beer would probably be considered an IPA by the strictest regulations. While wheat is present, it isn’t the dominant flavor in this beer, with hops taking that crown.
Caldera Pale Ale
Anyone expecting Caldera’s Pale Ale to be simply a lower viscosity version of their IPA delightfully mistaken in that assumption. This pale ale is far more malt-forward than the brewery’s IPA, and pairs well with nearly any food. Caldera is one of many breweries that have opted to can their most produced beers.
Bell’s Brewery Oberon Wheat Pale Ale
Adding to the wide range of flavor profiles for a wheat pale ale, Bell’s Oberon is a beer that is quite malt-forward. This beer is only available during the summer time, and pairs best with the sunshine, and about five more Oberon Wheat Pale Ales.
Bale Breaker Field 41 Pale Ale
Bale Breaker’s Field 41 challenges Deschutes Hop Trip as the quickest turn around from hop field to brew kettle, as Bale Breaker Brewing actually resides on the B.T. Loftus Ranches hop farm in Yakima, Washington. Field 41 is deliciously hop forward, and at 4.5 percent ABV, you can drink Field 41 as both a marathon and a sprint, depending on your mood.
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