I like the way Deschutes folks – who have been brewing pale ales in the Northwest since the 80s – describe pale ale: “This is the base camp, where any craft brew exploration begins.” True to form in the Northwest, the pale ale has set the standard for so many of the beers that followed it. The moniker “pale ale” -- which refers to the predominantly pale malts used to brew it -- is misleading. Some pale ales are not pale! Amber ales, blonds, English bitters, red ales and of course the famous IPA all fall under the larger pale ale classification. However, for the purpose of this tasting, we narrowed the field to those beers specifically designated as “pale ale,” and most of the following fall generally into the American pale ale category, which is hoppier than English pale ales, but generally less hoppy than most Northwest IPAs. Predominantly, Cascade hops are featured in American pale ales, but not always.
Because you will find an affordable pale ale in almost every store, bar and taproom in Oregon, and because of it’s light “session-ability,” pale ales make great summer beers.
Roseburg consumers at O’Toole’s last month agreed. They decidedly liked beers from all of the long-time pale ale makers who entered including Deschutes, McMenamins and Widmer Brothers, and gave a thumbs-up for some of Oregon’s newcomers as well.
Following are some of their comments.
McMenamins Hammerhead, Roseburg
5.93 % ABV, 44 IBUs
This classic Northwest pale ale is McMenamin’s top seller. It is a rich chestnut color, harmonizing hops and malted barley. The Cascade hops blend with caramel tones from the crystal malt. “Flavorful and refreshing,” wrote one taster. “Perfect for a hot day,” and “Now this taste’s like a beer,” wrote others. Several remarked with pleasure on the caramel color, and the light hoppiness. “Yes! It’s perfect because my wife and I both like it,” said a fan. “This might go well with a Rueben sandwich,” said a taster.
BricktownE Brewing’s Applegate Pale Ale, Medford
5.7 % ABV, 45 IBUs
Owner of this small Craig McPheeters calls this the quintessential pale ale for the Northwest drinker, who expects something a bit hoppier than the usual pale ale. It verges on being an IPA, but not quite, he said. It is brewed with Cascade and Centennial hops, with some Columbus hops, giving it a light citrusy flavor. This session pale ale is brewed with crystal malts. “Smooth, good flavor, not real heavy,” said tasters. “Good for a hot day,” said another. “Crispy,” “Thirst-quenching,” said others. “A get off work, sit on the back porch and relax beer,” said a fan.
Omission Brewing Co., Portland
5.8 % ABV, 33 IBUs
This traditional-tasting beer includes all the right stuff – barley, hops, water and yeast – but it doesn’t contain much gluten, thanks to a post-brewing process. Bold and hoppy in the American pale ale style, it showcases the Cascade hop. It is amber-colored with a floral aroma complemented by the caramel malt. Consumers in Roseburg didn’t know they were drinking gluten-free beer, and heartily endorsed Omission: “Nice finish,” remarked one taster. ”Mellow, smooth and pleasant,” “My mom would like this one,” and, “Soft and mild – a nice drink,” were other comments from tasters who had no idea they were drinking a gluten-free beer.
Widmer Brother’s Alchemy, Portland
5.8 % ABV, 40 IBUs
This year’s incarnation of a Widmer pale ale features an “Alchemy” hop blend from the Pacific Northwest. Widmer calls it “Rich and malty with hints of caramel and a distinct hop character.” Fans in Roseburg called it simply “Very, very good.” “Just in time for summer, a pale ale we all can enjoy,” said one taster. “Easy drinking,” “crispy and refreshing,” “Amazing!” were among other comments from Roseburg tasters.
Vertigo’s Closer Pale Ale, Hillsboro
5.7 % ABV, 55 IBUs
This pale ale was named with a baseball theme, a nod to Hillsboro Hops team, which recently relocated in Hillsboro. It is a medium-bodied golden colored American pale ale with late additions of several hop varieties to give it a citrusy finish. It is dry-hopped with lots of Amarillo hops for the great aroma. “Springtime feeling,” said one taster. “Very hoppy and flavorful,” said another. ”Just right! Yum!” “Nice, light and refreshing,” and “So clean, I could bathe in it,” said others.
Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale, Bend
5.0 % ABV, 40 IBUs
This pale ale has long been a flagship brew for Deschutes, one of Oregon’s oldest operating breweries. A distinct hop nose and hop-forward flavor make Mirror Pond the quintessential pale ale. It is aromatically complex, multi-layered, and unmistakably “right,” say its brewers. “Yum,” agreed a Roseburg taster. “Nom, nom, nom. I dig it,” said another. “Tasty. I like this one!” said a participant.
Hop Valley Citrus Mistress, Springfield
6.4 % ABV, 76 IBUs
This summertime ale features Citra, Anthanum and Centennial hops for a tropical, citrusy flavor, its brewers described. Tasters at O’Toole’s describe it thus: “Good and good, very good!” “Yesssssss! I would drink this every day!” “A champion. Sort of like rosemary and pine needles. Yum.” “Yeah, baby.”
Good Life Brewing’s Mountain Rescue Dry Hop Pale Ale, Bend
5.5 % ABV, 40 IBUs
This company says its patrons like to celebrate the "good life" of outdoor adventures with a great beer afterwards. This one was created in honor of the many mountain rescue teams out there who make the wilderness a safer place for all. Four malt and four hop varieties go into this award-winning brew. “It goes down real smooth,” said a Perfect Pints taster. “A nice session-type ale,” and “refreshing good flavor,” said other tasters.
Oregon Beer Growler each month invites consumers to “blind” taste a different style or group of beers at various locations across the state.