The number of small independent craft breweries has exploded in recent years, with drinkers choosing quality over quantity. Beer consumption may have fallen, but craft beers are on the rise. Nurturing the desire for specific flavour profiles, a mixture of diverse ingredients with subtle surprises, and character to soothe the palate even of the pickiest beer sommelier, craft beers have invaded the dreary, uneventful landscape. Otherwise occupied by international conglomerates to offer their own unique take on beer. Of all the craft varieties, pale ales sit atop the craft beer hierarchy, followed by IPAs.
What makes a Pale Ale a Pale Ale?
Pale ales encompass a range of different beer styles. They share a moderate use of hops, balanced out by a bready, biscuity flavour from the pale malts that lend the beer style its name. The beers are golden to copper in colour, slightly to moderately bitter, and brewed with a top-fermenting ale yeast.
They’re full of flavour and not too strong, slotting between stouts and lagers in ABV content, so recommended as the ideal beer to get you into the whole world of craft beers. English pales ales are the basis for a variety of popular styles. Most notably, the Indian Pale Ales, that are also an Aussie craft favourite, American Pale Ales, that started the craft craze, and beers like Belgian Saisons with fruity or herbal overtones.
Brewing Your Own Pale Ale
All craft brewers started out small. The driving force was their passion and a love for beer full of flavour. Pale ales are approachable even for non-drinkers, which is one of the reasons why they dominate the craft scene. They’re also easily brewed at home. A pale ale brewing kit can help you make your own batch of the beer, or replicate famous tastes, from the grandad of craft pale ales from the eponymous Sierra Nevada brewery, or Aussie staples like James Squire 150 Lashes and Hop Thief, Cooper’s Pale Ale, Fat Yak, and pub classics like 4 Pines and Pacific Pale Ale.
Recipe kits contain pale malt extract, a dose of hops and ale yeast. Each kit is crafted to provide the taste of your favourite pale ale. Pale ales thrive on flavours from the blend of English (Goldings) or American hops (Cascade and Amarillo) that bring out fruity overtones and the bitterness, and this is tempered with the bready sweetness of the coke-baked pale malts. Blends may also include pilsner malts to bring down the malty overtones. American varieties tend to be a bit hoppier and a bit stronger, verging on IPAs.
As for Aussie pale ales, the classic that is the James Squire 150 Lashes has been fortified with additional hops, mixed with pale malt extract and a slight dose of pilsner malts and fermented with American ale yeast. This pale ale brewing kit goes by the name of 170 Lashes Pale Ale, accenting the hoppy character. It has a slight bitterness, coupled with citrusy aromas, reminiscent of orange or grapefruit. This is a golden beer, with a frothy head that goes down easily. Just one example of the dozens of different recipes out there.
What Else do You Need?
Recipes are all good, now you need the tools to the trade. Against all preconceptions, homebrewing doesn’t cost and arm and a leg. To get started, a basic home brew pale ale starter kit can get you up and running and bring your first batch of beer in no time. This includes all the essentials. Your first boil is emptied into a fermenting barrel that comes with an airlock to whizz away carbon dioxide and let the yeast do its thing.
Hydrometers let you measure alcohol content at the end of fermentation, with pale ales hovering around five per cent. The beer is then bottled. You’ll want glass bottles that are cleaned with sanitizer and bottle brushes, and capped with a bottle capper. The bottles are left to sit for around two weeks until ready to be opened. You’ll need a little patience before enjoying the rewards of your exploits.
To get all the ingredients to a boil, you’ll also need to include distilled water in your pale ale brewing kit, roughly 30 litres worth, and a kettle or larger metal container. To stir the brew as it comes to a boil, also get a mixing paddle. Though not essential, you can also use a carboy, a container for secondary fermentation. This will produce slightly lighter colours in the pale ale and is what you want in secondary hopping an IPA. Adding carbonation drops helps the yeast ferment the mixture.
The end result is a crisp, hop-forward, flavoury beer. The hoppy overtones pair well with all kinds of cheese, particularly cheddar, and the maltiness is rounded out with pizza, burgers or tacos. Mind, there are no strict rules here, and you can just as well down a few glasses with steak or bangers and add some fries.
What after My First Batch?
Honing your skills will get you the taste you’re after. The best part is this is an inexpensive way to create your own blend of pale ale, or any other beer. And you’ll always have a few bottles left to invite some friends over. Downing the 20 litres is an incentive to make more. Who knows, you might create the next Aussie beer favourite.