Friday, 23 May 2008

Beer O'Clock Beer Styles: American Ales

Stu from SOBA continues his cruise around the main beer types.  This week, the style known as American Pale Ales ...

PC-anchor-liberty-ale If you're a fan of the hop-dominated New Zealand Pilsners that are in fashion right now (think Emerson's Pilsner or Mac's Hop Rocker), then you have to give a little thanks to the USA for their creation.

These hop driven kiwi beers were, no doubt, inspired by the creations of hop crazy American craft brewers over the last 30 years.

While New Zealand hops – much like our varietal wines - tend to be "fruitier" (with allusions to gooseberries, guava, mango, pawpaw, lychees and passionfruit), American ales are certainly hop-centric. Their hops tend to be described as having a "citrus" character --  and the hops of both countries sometimes receive "pine" or "grassy" descriptors too.

Epic Pale Ale and Emerson's APA are both outstanding and quite true-to-style American Pale Ales. Meanwhile Croucher Pale Ale, Founder's Fair Maiden, Renaissance Discovery and Three Boys IPA are all kiwi-hopped interpretations of the style. Try the NZ and American hopped versions side-by-side, and look for the difference in hop character.

The American Amber Ale and American Brown Ale styles get maltier, darker, and less perceivably bitter, while still showcasing the bold hop aroma and flavour of American hops. I'm surprised that more New Zealand breweries haven't explored these styles, as they tend to be easier entry-level styles to lure in the budding craft beer drinker. Perhaps it has got something to do with our modern obsession with extremely pale “premium” beers. Mac's Sassy Red is certainly the standout American-style amber ale available locally, while The Twisted Hop's splendid Poplar Brown and Sunshine Brewery's Reserve Ale are two quite different approaches on the brown ale theme.

At the more alcoholic and brashly "American" end of the spectrum are India Pale Ale, Imperial IPA and American Barleywine. American IPA is like an amped up Pale Ale and Imperial IPA is, in an oh-so-typically American fashion, an overly-amped Pale Ale on steroids (the "high to absurdly high hop bitterness" description, within the style description, gives you some idea of what this beer is). Hallertau Brew Bar, near Auckland, brews an Imperial IPA called Stuntman every now and then. If Jackass was a beer, it would certainly be an Imperial IPA.

Keep an eye out at your local specialty beer store for beers from Anchor or Sierra Nevada (or the rarer Goose Island range) as all are classic examples of American styles [Anchor’s Liberty Ale could be the beer for Not PC readers]. On that note – and to inform Berend on reasons to leave South Auckland – if you know of a decent place to find good beer, then please add it to the beer places section on RateBeer.

In recent news: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, one of the giants of the craft beer movement, have introduced a nice spin on this story of inspiration by releasing a kiwi- hopped American Ale - Southern Hemisphere - as a part of their Harvest Series (the beer includes 100% New Zealand hops, picked in Nelson and flown direct to California to be used within a week of the harvest). Sadly, we will probably be quite unlikely to get access to this beer here.

And, in a classic twist of fate brought on by a variety of factors, the American hop industry has gone from a massive case of oversupply to a fairly severe supply shortage in the last few years (the  biofuels boondoggle is only partly to blame). Are we about to see a new "hopless" revolution in brewing? Are hops set to become one of New Zealand's major exports? Or will superman reverse the rotation of the earth and set things right? Something to contemplate when you crack open an ale tonight...

Next time: “Dark and Delicious: Stout and Porter”

1 comment:

  1. Ed - it's "American Ales", not just the pales.


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