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Overall Impression: A pale, refreshing and hoppy ale, yet with sufficient supporting malt to make the beer balanced and drinkable. The clean hop presence can reflect classic or modern American or New World hop varieties with a wide range of characteristics. An average-strength hop-forward pale American craft beer, generally balanced to be more accessible than modern American IPAs. BJCP, 2015, p. 33
Vital statistics: OG: 1.045 – 1.060; IBUs: 30 – 50; FG: 1.010 – 1.015; SRM: 5 – 10; ABV: 4.5 – 6.2%
Hops are the focus of American pale ales. The standard hops used in American pale ales are the C-hops: Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, and Columbus. Cascade and Centennial, in particular, are the signature hops in many American pale ales. Bell's Two Hearted Ale, which is a highly regarded example of the style, reportedly uses only Centennial. A Sierra Nevada pale ale clone from BYO magazine suggests Perle for bittering and Cascade for flavor and aroma. More recently, hops with pronounced citrus or tropical fruit qualities such as Mosaic or Citra have been used for flavor or aroma additions.
The timing of the hop additions is important. American pale ales typically have a significant amount hops added in the final 15 minutes of the boil (flavor) or at the end of the boil (aroma). These late additions are often about 25% to 40% of the total IBUs. A good strategy is to use smaller amounts of high-alpha hops for bittering and then use hops noted for flavor or aroma characteristics at the end of the boil. American pale ales are often dry-hopped in the fermenter for additional hop aromas that may be different from hops added late in the boil. The amount of dry hops is typically 0.5 oz to 2.0 oz per five gallons.
A challenging part of this style is that hop flavor and aroma can fade quickly, leaving the beer with only bitterness. Try using fresh hops in large amounts for late hop additions and dry hopping. For packaging, try to avoid oxygen contact and keep the carbonated beer chilled to maintain hop flavor.
For malts, the experts urge restraint with the specialty malts in order to keep malt character from overwhelming the hop flavors. American pale ales often have 5 to 10% of a medium (40L) or light (30L or less) crystal malt. Darker crystal malts will result in an American amber ale style, so this should be avoided or used very sparingly. Some recipes call for little to no crystal malt. Optional specialty malts are 5% to 20% Munich, Vienna, Victory, or Biscuit malt for increasing malt complexity. Some brewers are not enthused about using these toasted malts. For example, Strong (2009) feels that Victory, Biscuit, and Special Roast malts are "distracting" and "muddy-flavored" in this style. Small amounts (up to 3%) of wheat malt or a dextrine malt like Cara-pils are sometimes used to increase head retention.
American pale ales need a clean, neutral yeast in order to allow the hop qualities to stand out. The yeast used in most American pale ales is American Ale, such as White Labs WLP001, Wyeast 1056, or Fermentis US-05.
Gordon Strong (2018) feels that contemporary American pale ales can be divided into three groupings. There is a classic style, like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, that has an American two-row base, C-hops, and American ale yeast. The second group is more British, with Maris Otter malts and possibly British ale yeasts. A third grouping, which seems to be the current trend, emphasizes tropical hop flavors (Citra, Mosaic, etc.) and a hoppier balance.
Burnsed, J. (2012, July-August). Oh, say can you "C": Brewing hoppy American-style beers. Brew Your Own, 34-41
Carr, N. (2015). American pale ale: The refreshing revival of hoppy beers
Colby, C. (2006; March/April). Oh, say can you "C"? Brew Your Own, p. 32-39
Mallett, J. (2011, July/August). Bell's two hearted ale. Zymurgy, 22.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale Clone (2012, December). BYO magazine, 52.
Strong, G. (2009, January/February). American pale ale: The test of a brewer's skill. Brew Your Own, 19-23
Strong, G. (2018, January/February). Award-winning American pale ale: Recipes and tips. Brew Your Own, 56 - 66.
Zainasheff, J., (2013, January/February). American pale ale: Crisp and hoppy. Brew Your Own, 19-23.
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