What’s Really in That American Pale Ale?

The beer that really established the style was Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, first released in 1981. It set Cascade as the signature hop of American craft beer. It’s viewed by many now as passé, but for those of us old enough to remember, the bold bitterness and citrus/floral aroma and flavor of Sierra Nevada was mind blowing at the time. Over 30 years later, it’s still a great beer.

American pale ale is a refreshing, hoppy beer of moderate strength. It is pale gold to deep amber and usually clear, although dry-hopped versions can have a bit of haze. The aroma favors hops, usually showcasing citrusy, resinous or piney American varieties. Malt character is low to medium. The flavor follows suit with an emphasis on hop bitterness and flavor supported on a moderate malt base. The malt profile may have some notes of caramel and biscuit, but these usually will not be strong. Bitterness is high, but less than and IPA, and lingers into the finish. Hop flavors tend to be of the citrusy and piney American varieties, but others may be used as well. It goes out with a medium to dry finish.

Vital Statistics

OG: 1.045–1.060*
FG: 1.010–1.015**
SRM: 5–14
ABV: 4.5–6.2%
IBU: 30–45

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Anchor Liberty Ale, Bell’s Midwestern Pale Ale, Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale, Indeed Day Tripper Pale Ale, Odell 5-Barrel Pale Ale, Lift Bridge Crosscut Pale Ale, Lagunitas New Dogtown Pale Ale.

*Correction: OG range should be 1.045–1.060, while FG range should be 1.010–1.015. Story originally listed OG as 1.045 and FG as 1.060.

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About Michael Agnew, A Perfect Pint

Michael has a passion for beer. He is Minnesota's first Certified Cicerone (think sommelier for beer) with the Cicerone Certification Program, and a National Beer Judge with the Beer Judge Certification Program. In addition, Michael is himself an award-winning brewer. He writes a monthly column on beer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

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