The Session #64: Pale in Comparison

The SessionToday is the First and first Friday of June, and among the beer blogs that means it’s time for The Session, a monthly collaborative blogging project wherein a different “host” for the month selects a topic to write about, and then compiles and links to all the various participating blogs who have written something about that topic. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to touch base on the various beer bloggers and read different points of view.

This month’s Session gets back to our roots (by which I mean drinking and writing about a beer or two in a particular style) courtesy of our host, long-time beer blogger Carla Companion, aka The Beer Babe, and she’s picked a topic that I cannot believe hasn’t been covered yet in five previous years of Sessions: Pale Ales!

What is the one beer style usually makes up the first position in the sample flight, but yet is usually the one that we never get really excited about? The Pale Ale.

While this style serves as the foundation to its big-hoppy-brother the India Pale Ale, lately “Pale Ale” has become a throwaway term. I hear bartenders and servers using it to describe everything from Pilsners to unfiltered wheat beers (I wish I was kidding).

Your mission – if you choose to accept it – it so seek out and taste two different pale ales. Tell us what makes them special, what makes them forgettable, what makes them the same or what makes them different.

When it comes to underrated styles, Pale Ale is surely at or near the top of the list—and yet almost every brewery brews one! These days the standard Pale is, for all intents and purposes, an “introductory” beer that breweries carry because it’s expected—and indeed, I have to admit that I will look to a brewery’s Pale Ale to get a preliminary sense of how well they can brew and what sort of “house style” they will lean towards.

Because let’s face it, a good Pale Ale—a really good one—is tough to brew because there’s nowhere to hide the flaws that can be covered up with bigger, bolder, stronger beers—exactly the kinds of beers that outshine Pales these days in popularity. Yes, IPAs are all the rage; indeed here in the Pacific Northwest (and West Coast generally) having an IPA on tap is not only the standard, it’s expected, and people will look askance at you if you don’t brew one. But for my money a really good Pale Ale outshines a really good IPA because there was more skill going into brewing a good example of a (let’s face it) pedestrian style.

So I love a good Pale, and for me it helps me to get a bearing on a brewery. So with that in mind let’s follow Carla’s instructions and review a couple of Pale Ales…

Lazy Boy Dumb Luck Pale AleFirst up is Dumb Luck Pale Ale from Lazy Boy Brewing out of Everett, Washington. This isn’t one of their regular lineup, instead it’s apparently part of a Private Label series the brewery produces for Haggen Food stores in Washington, and some have apparently filtered down this way.

It’s 5.8% alcohol by volume.

Appearance: Orange and fairly bright with a rocky off-white head.

Smell: Mineral water along with a wet, steely hop bite. Some caramel notes lurking in there as well.

Taste: Somewhat dry and roasty with a bit of an edge, none of the usual caramel notes you’d expect from an American Pale Ale. (More highly-kilned malts were used here.) Hops are earthy and have an almost-metallic bite to them.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied, not much chewiness to it, dry and a bit husky.

Overall: Not bad, different than you’d expect for a Pale. Better than previous Lazy Boy experience (going from memory).

Dumb Luck Pale Ale on Untappd. BeerAdvocate: 1 review, 3.5/5. RateBeer: 6 reviews, 3.01/5.

Fort George Sunrise Oatmeal Pale AleNext up is Sunrise Oatmeal Pale Ale from Fort George Brewery in Astoria, Oregon, an American-style Pale Ale with the addition of oatmeal added to the malt bill. This was recently released in cans with a distinct, eye-catching orange design; it joins their regular growing lineup of pounders (all their canned beers are 16 ounce rather than 12).

It’s 5.5% alcohol by volume.

Appearance: Hazy golden orange color, with rocky(ish) creamy head. Nice lacing on the glass as the level drops.

Smell: Hop bines; the same kind of hops they use in their Vortex IPA I think, nicely sticky and resiny and green. Very floral, and hops dominate the nose.

Taste: Very bitter and full of resin and bitter dandelion. Surprisingly intense hoppiness; smooth malt body with a creamy presence that perhaps draws out he hop bitterness more.

Mouthfeel: Medium-to-full-bodied, with a creamy feel and sticky hop finish.

Overall: Intensely hoppy and the hopheads should love this (it’s really more of an IPA than a Pale though); it’s an interesting blend with the oatmeal, I rather like it.

Sunrise OPA on Untappd. BeerAdvocate: 83/100. RateBeer: 3.17/5, 66th percentile.

I’m interested in seeing what the other Session bloggers have come up with!