I’m a huge Top 10 guy. If I see a header with “10 Manliest Ways to Die” or “Top 10 Grossest Things in Your House“, chances are I’m clicking over in a heartbeat (Go ahead, click those links, I’ll be here when you get back). Apparently I’m not the only one obsessed with Top 10’s as our last two posts, Best IPA in America and Best Imperial IPA in America, generated more traffic than we’ve ever seen on Aleheads. Always one to strike while the iron’s hot, and because I can’t think of anything else to write, I figure I’ll take the IPA discussions back a notch and focus on American Pale Ale (APA). As always, if you don’t like my list, post your own in the comments section. This category is by far the most subjective we’ve had yet.
I don’t think anyone needs much of a primer on Pale Ales, but a little note should be added about the American version. All Pale Ales will employ a heavy use of pale malts, which left alone will produce a beer both light in color and in body. The great thing about Pale Ales is that they can be tinkered by the brewer to produce a huge array of results. While the British version tends to be on the mild, maltier side, Americans like to hop the shit out of their Pales (At least my favorites anyway). That’s not to say that Pale Ales always approach an India Pale Ale hop-rate or bitterness. It’s the balance of malts and hops and often a touch of fruitiness, which varies from brewer to brewer, that keeps the APA in a different category than the IPA. Color is also hardly ever pale these days with most leaning toward the amber range.
As I said, taste is extremely subjective with APA’s. I tried to do my Top 10 based on what I’d like to drink most and not necessarily based on the hoppiest, most sesssionable, or best examples of the style. Regionality plays a huge role in APA’s so I would expect every Alehead in the country to have a different list than mine.
10. Anderson Valley Poleeko Gold – Just what you’d expect out of your average American Pale Ale. The brewers use a light hand with the hops, just enough to balance out a heavy use of sweet malts. Balanced perfection.
9. Boulder Beer Hazed & Infused – Here’s where the subjectivity of the style begins. Boulder’s version of the APA is downright brown in color and mixes in some resiny hops with a somewhat roasted background. Probably the maltiest backbone of any APA I’ve come across, and I love it. Trippy label too.
8. Great Divide Fresh Hop Pale Ale – The name says it all – Floral beyond comprehension. Citrus notes abound with some delicious piney notes.
7. Berkshire Brewing Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale – I may have a regional bias going with Berkshire Brewing since they don’t distribute too far out of their backyard. That said, this is one of my favorite session beers and it slings perfect to the style. A growler of the Steel Rail with a box of fried clams is my perfect afternoon treat.
6.Alesmith X – As always, Alesmith nails the style perfectly. As subtle as they come, this beer may lack a little bit of oomph and may underwhelm some, but for my money this brew shows you just what these guys are capable of. It’s not easy to brew a beer this approachable that remains complex throughout. If you’ve got a Miller Lite drinker lurking in your ranks, toss a pint of this his way (I mean her way of course) and maybe you’ll get yourself a convert.
5. Smuttynose Shoals Pale Ale – Smuttynose often gets criticized for not pushing the “Extreme” envelope far enough, but anyone that gets a taste of their Pale Ale will forgive them immediately. Grassy and dry with touches of bitterness to finish things off, this is a great example of the style and shows exactly what differentiates the APA from a British Pale Ale. To be fair, Smutty does put out some great beers that push the envelope, they just don’t get recognized enough for them.
4. Stone Pale Ale – The reason I love Stone’s Pale Ale is for the same reason that most regular Stone drinkers probably hate it. If you ripped the label off, you’d have no idea this was brewed by stone. Very drinkable, way more subdued than anything they’ve ever put out, this is the beer that I could see the brewers tossing back while they’re brewing up the newest version of “Arrogantly Conceited Self-Righteous You Don’t Deserve to Drink This IPA”.
3. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale – Quintessential American Pale Ale. I think this is the best example of the style that’s ever existed, but it’s still not my top Pale Ale. That doesn’t mean that I don’t drink more SNPA than any other beer on the planet, it’s just that I like my brews a little hoppier and Sierra doesn’t deliver quite as much in that department. Nothing else needs to be said. If this beer isn’t on your Top 10 APA list, than you don’t like APA’s (Or beer for that matter).
2. Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale – All I can say is I hope you like hops. You’re everyday Pale Ale drinker may spit this one back in your face, but Oskar Blues turns the traditional Pale Ale up to 1,000 with this offering. I would say this is the closest you’ll ever come to an IPA without crossing over the line. Do I have any idea why this isn’t an IPA? Nope. I just like it and that’s all I need to know. Do yourself a favor though and don’t be tempted to drink this out of the can. Your face may get sucked in and that would cause some nasty scrapes.
1. Three Floyds Alpha King – Take a peek on Beer Advocate and you’ll see that this is currently the 56th highest rated beer in the world. That may not seem like much, but being as this is an APA and not an Imperial IPA, Trappist Ale, or scarce commodity that only comes out once a year, # 56 is a pretty amazing feat for the Alpha King. I’d venture that the only thing that keeps the Alpha out of IPA status (Or even Imperial IPA status) is the malty base that balances out the massive hop presence. I could be wrong though. This is simply the best American Pale Ale I’ve ever had and I can’t imagine any brewery ever coming close to something this special.
I’ll only mention one omission from my list since I don’t want to ruin further discussion. Founders Pale Ale might be one of my favorite’s, but I almost consider that belonging to a different category. 100% Cascade hops give me all the grapefruit and orange that I ever need, however, I’m not sure if anyone else would add this to their favorite list because it’s kind of a unique brew. I do like their Pale Ale a lot more than their Harvest Ale, another APA that’s rated much higher, so maybe my judgment is skewed. In any case, I left it off the list. Let me hear your thoughts and get the battle going.
11 thoughts on “BEST PALE ALE IN AMERICA”
I’m unfortunately not nearly as well versed in APAs as I am in IPAs. I’m pretty sure my favorite is the Dale’s. It’s actually interesting – in the last 3-4 months there has been a tremendous growth of Dale’s in NYC. I’ve seen at on tap at at least a dozen places here in the city, and the cans are now relatively widely available in grocery stores/good beer bodegas. It’s amazing what you can do when you have a kickass product.
Oh, and before I began my conversion to a true Alehead, Sierra was always a favorite of mine. It must have been the dormant Alehead lying within, just waiting to leap out.
I’m with you Magnus, APA’s fall at the bottom of my knowledge bank but I was surprised at how many APA’s I actually like and drink on a regular basis. I always thought Pale Ales in general were a little boring, but I think I was sampling more British Pale Ales than anything. With more knowledge though I’ve grown to love American Pale Ales and can actually appreciate the subtleties of the British version a lot more.
I was blown away by the hop explosion the first time I had Dale’s Pale Ale. What I love about Oskar Blues is that their marketing makes sense from both a product stability standpoint and an eye-catching one. Cans make sense for beer shelf life and it helps them stand out among so many other craft beers. I also love that their tap handles are simply resin cans. They’re unmistakable when you walk into a bar and I’m glad that their fame is spreading in the 212.
Ok, I have 3 pale ales from the same brewer, but I think Deschutes has some really interesting pale offerings. My exposure to pales outside the Northwest is fairly limited since if there’s an interesting IPA from somewhere I’m always going to pick it. Unfortunately nearly half my selections are not widely available.
10. Burress Brewing’s Jackrabbit Pale
9. Smuttynose (Although it has now been 4 years since my last one)
8. Dick’s Pale Ale (Centralia, WA)
7. Deschutes Red Chair Northwest Style Pale Ale
6. Port Brewing Summer Pale Ale
5. Sierra Nevada
4. Deschutes Mirror Pond (now that’s a session Pale Ale!)
3. Manny’s Pale Ale (widely available in Seattle area, but not bottled)
1. Deschutes Hop Trip (Fresh Hoped Pale Ale…it’s awesome, but I feel like they cheated and basically made a “pale” which is essentially an IPA)
Doc, have you tried the new Victory Headwaters Pale Ale?