Pale Ales came about in England about 300 years ago and back then it was just to denote that the beer was in fact... pale. Stouts and Porters ruled the day due to their ease of production but over the years, this style evolved into something that is totally unrecognizable from it's original form. Let's start at the beginning.
English Bitters are the grandpappy of modern Pale Ales. While the name suggests that they're bitter, they're actually a low alcohol, malt forward beer. When bitters became popular hops weren't used as heavily as they are today so this was among the more bitter styles around. They're still very popular in England and they're best when coming out of a cask. So good.
- Malt: Low to Medium hop sweetness. Usually copper in color
- Hops: Hop aroma may or may not be evident. Low to Medium hop bitterness.
- ABV: 3.0-4.2%
- Pair With: Fish & Chips, Aged English Cheddar, Oatmeal Cookies
American Pale Ale
The defining moment of the American Style of hoppy ale that we know today happened about 30 years ago when Ken Grossman and Sierra Nevada Brewing made their famous Pale Ale. Perhaps the most important craft beer in history, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale changed the the Craft Beer Game. American Pale Ales are characterized by floral, fruity, citrus-like, piney, resinous, or sulfur-like American-variety hop character, producing medium to medium-high hop bitterness, flavor and aroma.
- Malt: Biscuity, bready, sometimes caramel
- Hops: Hop aroma and bitterness are medium to medium-high
- ABV: 4.4-6.0%
- Pair With: Grilled Meat (great with fajitas), Medium Cheddar, Apple Crisp
Indian Pale Ale
Indian Pale Ale's get their name because they were created to make the long trek from England to India. You see, beer spoils, and at some point people learned that hops are a natural preservative; so they would load up the beer with hops and send it on it's way. By the time they got the beer in India, it tasted closer to an English Bitters than what we know as an IPA. With time however, and the hop craze started by American Pale Ales, people started searching for hoppier and danker beers. Enter the IPA. Now IPA's represent about 25% of the beer market as a whole. Hop varietals vary wildly in flavor and aroma so one made with entirely cascade hops for instance can end up tasting totally different than one made with Mosaic, for instance. And now with people developing new and exciting hops every year, there's no end in sight for the variety of IPA's in the future.
Malt: Biscuit, Bready, Caramel
Hops: Aroma is high and hop flavor is strong both with floral qualities and citrus-like, piney, resinous or sulfur-like American-variety hop character. Hop bitterness is medium-high to very high
Pair With: Spicy Foods, Blue Cheese, Persimmons
As people started looking for hoppier and hoppier beers, breweries started ramping up the alcohol and hope levels to, in some cases, huge amounts. Enter the Double IPA.
- Malt: Malt character is Medium to High
- Hops: Hop flavor and aroma are very high, should be fresh and lively and should not be harsh in quality, deriving from any variety of hops. Hop bitterness is very high but not harsh
- ABV: 7.5-12%
- Pair With: Steak, Rich Cheese, Carrot Cake