Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 08: English Pale Ales

23 02 2010

We have now officially made our way to the ale categories in the BJCP. But before we begin to describe what English Pale Ales are like, a quick reminder of what differentiates an ale from a lager. A lager, as we have mentioned before, is fermented at cooler temperatures and then stored around freezing. An ale, on the other hand, is fermented at warmer temperatures–usually around room temperature. Ales tend to be more well rounded and show more fruity and nutty esters. An ale, unlike an lager, is not stored for any specific amount of time before consuming. However, some bigger ales may be cellared just as a fine wine may be. Vintage ale is often sought after, particularly barley wine style ales.

English ales are traditionally the lightest of the “pure” ales. Although cream and blonde ales are very light, the BJCP considers them “hybrids”. England is renowned for its pub culture. Dark, cozy, warm bars are a comfortable setting during the cold, wet, dark winters. And a good bartender trains for years to learn how to coax the best beer from the kegs. For, unlike American kegs which are filtered and pasteurized, English ales are cask conditioned. The yeast is left in the beer and as the beer ages, the ale changes, evolves and grows character. The beer is then hand drawn through suction (rather than carbonation) and is sometimes mixed to create the best blend. In the 1960’s and ’70’s, England almost lost its ale culture for the sake of easier American-style kegs. But a people’s movement on behalf of “real ale” saved the casks from demise.

English pale ale came about in the 1700’s when kilning technology allowed for grains to be roasted in much more controlled environment. This allowed for a more subtle and gentle roast of the grains allowing for a cleaner and grassier taste. Off draught, English pale ales are known as “Bitters” as opposed to “brown ale.” And the new beer style became quite popular with the upper and rising middle classes of England. As the beers aged and improved, their quality was graded. The “Standard Bitter” or “Ordinary Bitter” was the lowest quality. The next highest quality was known by the various names of “Special,” “Best,” “Premium Bitter.” The highest quality was the “Extra Special Bitter (ESB)” or the “Strong Bitter.” When bottled, it was merely known as “Pale Ale.” It should be noted that the term “Bitter” was a relative term in 18th century England. And by today’s standards of bitterness, an English Bitter has  relatively low IBUs. And while a Bitter would only be on draught in England, many American brewers will bottle an English Bitter and refer to it as such in order to differentiate from the more intense American-style Pale Ale.

Photo Credit: Uberculture Creative Commons

BJCP Category 08: English Pale Ales-

Subcategories: Standard/Ordinary Bitter, Special/Best/Premium Bitter, Extra Special/Strong Bitter.

Aroma: The best examples will have low to medium malt characters. ESBs will have more of a caramel note than Standards or Bests. A slight fruitiness is acceptable. Hop character is light and floral through the use of British hops. No Diacytal is present.

Appearance: Ranging from light yellow to light copper for Standards, medium to dark copper for Specials, and gold to deep copper for ESBs. Should be very clear. A light head is acceptable but not always present due to low carbonation.

Flavor: Medium to high bitterness. Low alpha acids from use of British hops. Floral and light hop notes. Low to medium malt with slight caramel. Although should definitely have a dry finish. Balanced more toward bitter but it should not overpower the malt, esters or hop flavors.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with light carbonation. Although bottled versions may have higher carbonation. Some ESBs might have a slight boozy warmth.

Ingredients: English pale malts with some caramel malts for color and roundness. English low alpha acid hops such as East Kent Goldings and Fuggles. Some adjuncts such as corn and sugar are acceptable although are rare. A bold English yeast should be used.

Technical Notes:

Original Gravity: 1.032-1.060
Final Gravity: 1.007-1.016
IBUs: 25-50
SRM (Malt Color): 4-18
ABV: 3.2-6.2%

Commercial Examples:

Ordinary/Standard Bitters: Fuller’s Chiswick Bitter, Adnams Bitter, Young’s Bitter, Greene King IPA, Oakham Jeffrey Hudson Bitter (JHB), Brains Bitter, Tetley’s Original Bitter, Brakspear Bitter, Boddington’s Pub Draught
Special/Best/Premium Bitters: Fuller’s London Pride, Coniston Bluebird Bitter, Timothy Taylor Landlord, Adnams SSB, Young’s Special, Shepherd Neame Masterbrew Bitter, Greene King Ruddles County Bitter, RCH Pitchfork Rebellious Bitter, Brains SA, Black Sheep Best Bitter, Goose Island Honkers Ale, Rogue Younger’s Special Bitter
Extra Special/Srong Bitters: Fullers ESB, Adnams Broadside, Shepherd Neame Bishop’s Finger, Young’s Ram Rod, Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Pale Ale, Bass Ale, Whitbread Pale Ale, Shepherd Neame Spitfire, Marston’s Pedigree, Black Sheep Ale, Vintage Henley, Mordue Workie Ticket, Morland Old Speckled Hen, Greene King Abbot Ale, Bateman’s XXXB, Gale’s Hordean Special Bitter (HSB), Ushers 1824 Particular Ale, Hopback Summer Lightning, Great Lakes Moondog Ale, Shipyard Old Thumper, Alaskan ESB, Geary’s Pale Ale, Cooperstown Old Slugger, Anderson Valley Boont ESB, Avery 14’er ESB, Redhook ESB

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