Friday, June 1, 2012

Session #64: Pale? Ale

I'll be honest, I wasn't planning on contributing to this month's Session. It's no slight against Carla, the Beer Babe, I just couldn't get my act together. Zipping over to the beer stores to find two Pale Ales that I wanted to write about, just wasn't in the cards. I'm simply lazy, I know, it's not an excuse, but at least it's truthful.

Then my conscience got the best of me. How could I let my reader down? There has been created an implicit trust that I will drink beer and then write, poorly, about it; and you will then ignore what I write. It has become a universal constant. If I couldn't do a side by side comparison of Pales, maybe I could, at least, think of something to write about. So, here goes.

Pale Ale isn't really that pale.

That's right, I said it. Pale Ale—not so pale. The debate over Black IPA's name has been argued ad nauseum—Black IPA can't be an IPA because the P means pale, and black is the opposite of pale. Okay, point taken, but when you think about it Pale Ale isn't all that pale, either—not anymore, anyway. There are any number of beers that are far paler than even the palest of Pale Ales—Wit, Pilsener, Kölsch, Lambics and Cream Ales—to name a few. In fact, a non-beer drinker might even classify the Pale Ale as a dreaded "dark beer"—it looks far darker than almost all macro Lager. Sure, it's quite a bit lighter than a porter, but is it "pale"?

It used to be simple. Back in the olden' days, when brewers made a beer they only had a few malts to choose from. Brown beer came from brown malt, Amber beer from Amber malt and the lightest beer they could make, came from the lightest malt they had, pale malt—hence the name Pale Ale. Even after Mr Wheeler let his patented malt roaster loose on England in the early-19th century, Pale Ale remained a single malt beer and, well, pale. A tiny bit of black malt meant brewers could darken pale malt to shades from golden-amber to coppery-red—but no, Pale Ale stuck it out and made sure to lather on the zinc oxide and wear a floppy hat before going to the beach. In fact, British breweries were still making 100% pale malt Pale Ales well into the late 1920s and early 1930s—all juuuust golden-hued.

At some point, however, a little dark invert sugar started slipping in, then caramel malt, brought its tanned good looks to the party. It was a slippery slope for Pale Ale and, as the saying goes, once you go Caramel 40ºL, you never go back. Today's Pale Ale use a veritable rainbow of roasted and toasted malts, resulting in brews that range from hazy orange to coppery red. So, what does that mean? Yup, you got it

Pale Ale isn't really that pale.

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