Search for Everyday-Drinking Pale Ales
In super-beers, my tastes tend to run to monster IPA's, imperials, doubles, etc. But the drawback is these can run 8 - 9 - 10% ABV or higher. One bottle of them and you're tipping, two is like 4 of anything else... so is there a great "everyday" IPA out there with lower ABV?
Criteria for tonite's blind tasting: ABV <7%, Ratebeer > 90. Candidates are:
Deschutes Red Chair (6.2% ABV)
Stone Go-To (4.5%)
Boulevard Pop-Up (4.3%)
Deschutes Fresh Squeezed (6.4%)
Nectar Ales Nectar IPA (6.7%)
Lagunitas IPA (6.2%)
All beers were tasted blind: I knew the 6 identities ahead of time, but not which was in which glass... Actual tasting notes follow:
1: Pleasant up-front flavor, hint of citrusy sweetness...
2: Skunky up-front taste. Out at first sip.
3: Effervescent texture (overly so), light on flavor. Ineffectual.
4: Interesting. A bit drier than #1 at first, but seems well made... still sort of singular mild bitterness, doesn't evolve.
5: Nice, mild carmelly initial flavor, opens to mildly bitter hoppy bouquet
6: Similar comments to #45: well made, non-complex, mildly on the bitter side.
Beers 1, 4, 5, and 6 move on to next flight of tasting
1: Mildly luscious up front... some lip-smacking flavor evolution
4: Juyst sharply bitter vs. #1. This wouldn't be a steady go-to IPA for my palate
5: Nice citrusy up-front flavor. Pleasant relief from the singularity of #4
6: Now this is dry, but not as much so as 4
Beers 1, 5, and 6 move to the final round of this taste-off
1: I could definitely go-to with this... complex, nothing not to like, some hint of sweetness amongst the bitters.
5: Nothing not to like, but 1 just is overall more interesting
6: Seems sort of nice but bland.
A final sip of #1 seals it.
RESULTS: 1 is the ONLY one of these 6 beers that meets with my palate for an everyday "non-imperial" pale ale with great flavor.
DRUMROLL to reveal the winner, I honestly have no idea which beer this is.... Deschutes Fresh Squeezed!! I note that in prior random tastings this beer has also fared well. It's just excellent and the only one of these 6 that will move on in this "everyday" competition.
Revealing identities of the other beers: 2 (Lagunitas IPA), 3 (Deschutes Red chair), 4 ( Stone go-to), 5 (Nectar IPA), 6 (Boulevard Pop-up). Interesting to note that hands-down the driest beer of this bunch was the Stone. Sorry but I just don't crave the Stone PA style.. it's singular to a fault IMO.
Thanks for the notes, I haven't tried any of those, but I also enjoy a good pale ale that won't overly intoxicate me.
May I also suggest
Alesmith X, an incredibly crisp, hoppy, light colored pale ale.
Good old Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, often overlooked due to its ubiquity but still one of my favorites.
Ballast Point Even Keel, not sure if it is widely distributed but quite low in alcohol, refreshing and tasty.
Stone Levitation, more amber than pale but refreshing, citrus fruit flavors.
Not sure if you can get this in your area but Founders All Day IPA is pretty damned tasty. There are a number of east coast ones coming out too like Carton Boat Beer and Evil Twin Hipster that are quite good.
It is nice to have something lower in alcohol to choose from that brings good flavor
I haven't tried the Evin Twin one yet, but I like the other two as well. And I agree, the lower ABV full flavored/ aroma beers are an encouraging trend.....BTW, I checked out Dirck the Norseman other day. One visit was decently positive but I'm going to require more sampling of the brews. Cool space. Once I get some more experience under my belt will post on the OB board.
Here's a 2nd Blind Tasting of 6 "Everyday, Highly-Rated" Pale Ales.
At the outset, note that I rejected a couple beers (forget which ones) with nice ratings that were even 7.1%. If they were anything over 7.0%, I didn't include them. The beers for this blind tasting were:
Bear Republic Rcer 5
Evil Twin Falco
Goose Island IPA
Oskar's Dales Pale Ale
Summit SAGA IPA
Actual tasting notes follow:
1: Initial "flattish" or blandish impression. Not bad, just doesn't pop.
2: Nicer, brihter... some citrus... fades to quite dry finish... almost puckery
3: Okay... kind of a "dry slurpy" brew
4: Not bad... almost a clovey-german wheat flavor... kind of interesting
5: Pleasant, a bit insipid... turns dry. [just now I remember a British girlfriend in Bombay who used the word "insipid" alot :)]
6: Anoter bland/dry brew...
The above is why I prefer big imperial IPAs... let's try this again [actually wrote that]
1: Okay, but nothing jumps out
2: Mild skunkiness...
3: A little more interesting... fiar up-front flavor & some complexity. Definitely prefer 3 over 2 due to 2's dry fade...
1 and 3 are best of 1st three, but don't love either really
4: Okay... kind of a relief...
5: Singular dryness to semi-puckery... definitely prefer 4.
6: Fair... do I really like this? 2nd sip... elicits a groan...
Re-sipping 4 ... 4 is absolutely the best of the 2nd group of 3.
4 vs. 3: 4 for sure
4 vs. 1: this is closer, maybe let's leave it here... 4 by a nose over 1.
REVEALING the "winners"... DRUMROLL....
4 is... Bear Republic Racer 5
1 is... Stone IPA
Interesting result, because in several blind tastings in past years, Racer 5 has come out pretty well for my palate... not making it quite to the top of the imperial mountain, but getting to the quarter and semi-finals in some cases...
Revealing the others: Racer 5 (4), SAGA (3), GI-IPA( 2), Dales (5), Falco (6), Stone (1).
.... to be continued....
Third Blind Tasting:
Odell Runoff IPA
Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye (I know it's a rye, but still labeled a "PA")
Deschutes Mirror Pond
Of the above, 3 beers moved on to the final flight ).
Final flight notes:
Beer 1: Okay, just non-distinct, nothing special
Beer 3: A bigger flavor than #1
Beer 5: Most complex... but not loving it. I think I liked the flavor of 3 better... Re-sipping 3 confirms it.
Winner: Beer #3.... Odell Runoff IPA. (FWIW, 1 was Mirror Pond, 3 Inversion).
So now I've done 3 different blind tastings, a total of 17 beers... it's time to pit the winners of the 3 tastings against each other to hopefully find a true "masterpiece" lower-alcohol PA for everyday drinking. The 3 contestants are:
Bear Republic Racer 5
Deschutes Fresh Squeezed
Odell Runoff IPA
Actual tasting notes follow:
Beer 1: Rich, mid-spectrum on the sweet-dry scale... lacks a bit of "vibrance". Just sort of "sits" in my mouth.
Beer 2: Yum... definitely more up-front flavor than 1. Favors the dry side. Overall I prefer 2 at this point, not that 1 is unpleasant.
Beer 3: Bright flavor. But overall I just like Beer 2 better at this point...
Revealing the winner....
And it's no surprise....
Deschutes Fresh Squeezed. This is a great IPA and has stood up several times in past tastings. It's bright, complex, evolves, and just leaves an impression of a well-made beer. At 6.4% it's hardly "thin" but won't knock you for a loop like the 10 and 11 percenters... Thanks to the brewers of the other 16 beers for helping to showcase this one!
Always thought there would someday be a demand for interesting and drinkable lower abv american pale ales/english bitter styles that used american hops for unique flavors, just never thought they would have to be called IPA's to get anyone's interest though. ;-)
Here are some of the Session IPA's that I have tried:
Founder's All Day IPA - So far this is the king of this "new" pale ale for me, but only out of a can - for some reason the hop flavor is short lived on draft and bottle, but every sip out of the can is deliciously hoppy with tropical and citrusy flavors. Best balance/mouthfeel- which is pretty difficult to pull off for this style imo. 15 packs out now for ~$17 and this will be a staple in my fridge - Seems to keep its fresh hop flavor for 2+ months too.
Lagunitas Daytime IPA - enjoyed the heck out of it when it first came to market (~2yrs ago?)- lots of hop punch up front and good drinkable balance. Recent try lacked the hop flavor and was a bit astringent and watery.
Stone Go To IPA - Probably the hoppiest of the bunch that I have tried but bit too floral/grassy and out of balance (dry/bitter) for my tastes in something that I am going to drink multiples of in a session. Good when blended with one of the lesser hopped examples below though.
Ithaca Green Trail - a nice somewhat fruity pale ale and drinkable malty base, but doesn't push my hop buttons enough to consider it as an IPA
Uinta Detour - an easy drinking red ale - bandwagon jumping on the session ipa name though
Notch Left of the Dial - tried on tap last year. Very similar to Uinta Detour
Greenflash Citra Session - only had on tap, but nicely hoppy and drinkable until I had another beer and came back to it, then it just seemed wispy/watery.
Wachusett Light IPA - caramel malty body and somewhat bold old school (centennial ?) hop flavor. Nice drinkability when its cold, but gets a little cloying when it warms. As far as I know this is the first brewery to use this naming convention. IMO - if/when someone gains crossover traction with this name and the big lager producers jump on it, it could be the perfect storm that overcomes premium pilsner as the most popular style in the US - you will see a broad range of flavorless to full flavored beers called Light IPA's. Then you will see some serious hop shortages. ;-)
The search continues with an interesting blind tasting last night. The Beers:
Lost Coast Indica
North Coast Red Seal Ale
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale
Stone Pale Ale
Tastings were all single-blind: I knew the 4 beers, but not which one was in which glass. Actual tasting notes follow:
Beer 1: Not bad... smooth, mildly sweet initial flavor fades to mildly bitter... Could be a go-to here, have to see...
Beer 2: Kind of singularly-bitter. I don't think this is my daily PA
Beer 3: Again... too un-imaginative, just straight bitter. Re-sipping Beer 1 again, Beer 1 is clearly better.
Beer 4: Uggg... this flavor is a mess.
Next round: 2 vs. 3.
beer 2... just singular, life's too short.
beer 3: definitely beats 2, still not lovin' it.
Sipping 1 again vs. 3... easy winner, 1 is good, will move on in these tasting championships.
Now to see what I've been loving here... drumroll.... Beer 1 is:
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale.
The others: 2 ( Stone Pale Ale), 3 (Lost Coast Indica), 4 (Red Seal).
SNCA is a really interesting beer... don't think they brew it year-round unfortunately. But it's got that complexity that so many of these other brews don't deliver. Post-script: I've always liked Indica as a go-to. It came in a distant 2nd in this tasting, that really says something for SNCA.
I like your choice of beers this round, and they are some of my favourites. Lost Coast Indica is imported into Japan by a friend of mine, and I recently had a six pack. It is pretty good. For years I have loved Red Seal, and was surprised it wasn't good for you -- perhaps an old product and not stored well? Stone Pale Ale is pretty good, but not exceptional as some of the other Stone beers are. The real tour de force, though, is the SNCA, which is one truly exceptional beer that likely makes Sierra Nevada proud. I would put it in a class apart from the three others.
Enjoy your reports! Keep up the good work.
I'm going to pit SNCA vs. Deschutes Fresh Hop and perhaps another if I can find something worthy at an upcoming get together of fellow-imbibers. We will do a blind tasting between 4 or 5 persons and it will be interesting.
Interesting read on "fresh hops" from SN: http://www.sierranevada.com/beer/seas...
Seems like they harvest between Aug and Oct 31... then brew Celebration up shortly thereafter. I assume Deschutes is similar (all of them that claim "fresh hops" for that matter?).
Anyway that means they might not be good candidates for a year-round go-to medium alcohol PA. I'm going to cellar some of it and try a bottle every month til the next batch comes out... see if there is any real deterioration in flavor...
So I've got a blind taste-off set up with some friends this Friday and thought I'd try one more batch of PA's prior to that.... The 4 beers tasted were:
Great Divide Fresh Hop
Rogue Yellow Snow IPA
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA (just slightly above the 7% abv cutoff at 7.2%)
All beers were tasted side-by-side blind... actual tasting notes follow:
Beer 1: First taste is okay. Balanced.... flavor evolves and finishes to a drier taste. Not crazy about it as the final taste notes get quite bitter...
Beer 2: Just don't love this taste.... kind of skunk-yucky.... Life's too short to drink this.
Beer 3: Sort of like this.... a mid-spectrum bitter-sweet initial flavor. Probably the best beer so far
Beer 4: Bland flavor. Noting to love... Beer 3 is definitely better.
FINAL FLIGHT: 1 vs. 3...
Sipping 3: Not bad....
Sipping 1.... no question 3 is better....
Beer 3 wins and moves on to Friday night's taste-off...
Revealing the winner.... Beer 3 is.....
Sierra Nevada Torpedo...
The others: Beer 1 (GDFH); Beer 2 (RYS); and Beer 4 (SNPA).
SNT will move on to Friday and face: Deschutes Fresh Squeezed and SN Celebration head-to-head blind. I'm going to include a glass of Odell Myrcennary, the winning IPA from the last taste-off this group did.
Myrcennary is a stronger more "imperial" type IPA. It will benchmark our palates. If one or more of these more "modest ABV" beers compares favorably to Myrcennary we know we really have something...
DOWNSIDE of this so far: SN Celebration is strictly a seasonal brew :( Fortunately DFS is now brewed year-round per their website so there's at least one year-round brew identified among all these tasted. If Torpedo holds up it also is year-round now, so might have two!
Bottom line is after all this effort I may have to go back and pick out the runners-up that are year-round brews to find maybe one more really good one.
I'd love to find that and other top-rated session PAs. The only one for sure in this series of tastings are Boulevard Pop-Up and Stone Go To.
Realistically I suspect the beers up towards the 7% ABV cutoff will generally score better than those near 5% or less, yes ? Deschutes Fresh Squeezed is at 6.4%, SN Celebration at 6.8%, and SN Torpedo at 7.2% :(
That's a question for the brewers out there, can't directly answer it either...
...I'm going to take a wild guess and say that the extra fermentation time results in a richer, more complex flavor?
But whatever the reason, at least to my palate it is the case that the very best, richest brews do tend to be "higher alcohol".... great stouts, great barleywines, imperial IPAs, strong belgians, etc...
That's why I'm really thrilled to find a superb PA at under 7% abv, because as much as I love the stronger brews, you feel them more in the morning.
Well I homebrew and in my experience and in commercial beers I have had higher alcohol and more hops and malt can hide flaws pretty easily. I also wouldn't say a stronger flavor means a more complex beer. If you have ever been to England there are plenty of low alcohol beers with rich complex flavors that are the epitome of sessionable. Similarly German/Czech pilseners can be complex as well.
A well made beer is a well made beer regardless of ABV in my experience but everyone's taste is different.
Too many to count, really. Off the top of my head the most recent one I had that I didn't care for was Stone's Go-To IPA. It reminded me of another one I didn't like, Ballast Point's Even Keel. They both had an unpleasant grassy note and lack of body, which is not surprising given the low ABV, but other brewers have found ways around that.
In SF there are two newish breweries, Cellarmaker and Social Kitchen (which technically isn't new but has a newish brewer) which both make really good session pales/IPAs. Cellarmaker recently had one called Crush A Bale which was like Pliny light. Low alcohol, amazing hop flavor, and the body was quite pleasant due to the use of oats in the malt bill. So far it seems all the best versions of this style I've had have been from smaller producers.
But what about the brewing process itself...
If we just look at rich microbrew Imperial Pale Ales for a moment (say 3 Floyds Dreadnaught or Dogfish 60 min or Odell Myrcennary.... )
Is it possible to get the same level of flavor out of these beers but keep the ABV way down? I've just never had a lower ABV beer that achieves that...
This is not to say that a lower ABV beer can't be "well made", it's just I've never found one that achieves these same levels of flavor...
Im assuming you meant Dogfish 90? 60 is only like 6% I believe and is good but certainly isnt an imperial IPA. And yes you are very unlikely to find anything that mimics the same malt density and hop explosion that youll find in a Dreadnaught. I just dont know if you could mimic that without using tons of malt and tons of hops by definition. BUT maybe the word "flavor" is where the disconnect is here because for many people (myself included) the flavor of certain 3.9% english milds are top notch. You could also look at beers like the Gose, the Berliner weisse, the Bier de Garde, the Wit which all have TONS of flavor and usually are pretty low in ABV. The thing is its a different kind of flavor from the imperial IPA. So if you are using the definition of flavor as "hops and grain bill/mouth feel like a Dreadnaught" no mild (or pale ale for that matter) will EVER give you what you want.
I guess for me its like saying mild cheeses can never be as flavorful as strong stinky cheeses because well they arent strong and stinky! When in fact theres some fantastic mild cheeses that blow away some stinky cheeses but you could never say they have more "flavor" then that mediocre stinky cheese. Not sure if that analogy works but... thats how it works for me at least.
re: Insidious Rex
Right.... you just won't get dreadnaught richness in a 3.9% abv beer from anywhere....
But in their own way the flavor of the lower ABV can still be great in it's own way... just like a mild wheat beer can have a great flavor in it's own way compared to a rich imperial stout has one...
Richness and complexity for me seem to be distinguishing features of these great high ABV beers.
SPRING 2014 PALE ALE MIDWEST FINALS, moderate ABV category....
So after blind tasting 25 PAs and IPAs, the time finally came for the ultimate showdown.
Myself and 2 pals held a blind tasting last night pitting the following "winners" of the preliminary tastings listed in this thread:
Deschutes Fresh Squeezed
Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale
Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra Pale Ale
My tasting notes:
Beer 1: Well made, a bit on the dry side....
Beer 2: More complex, hints of sweetness, prefer it over 1
Beer 3: Quite dry, almost to point of IPA "harshness".
To me, it wasn't much of a contest... Beer 2 was my favorite.
My friends didn't hesitate in their faves either. First guy clearly preferred beer 2, followed by 1 then 3. Second guy just liked beer 2 and in comparison thought the others fell short....
We continued to taste the remaining beer, but the ratings never changed... This was over "at first sip".... the winner by a wide margin....
Let's reveal Beer 2....
Deschutes Fresh Squeezed. What a masterpiece of a beer.
Beer 1: SNCA
Beer 3: SN Torpedo.
I posted this similar question a while ago and the replies brought me to some tasty beers.
I've recently tried Goose Island Endless IPA and enjoyed it. It's 4.8% ABV (I think). I love Founders All Day and haven't see the Lagunitas Daytime IPA for over a year.
Random Tasting Note on Stone Levitation Ale and a new blind tasting.
Stone Levitation: at 4.4% ABV this is just watery, dry and very un-interesting. Not worth putting into a tasting.
Blind Tasting, May 2014, of two new beers pitted against the perennial "champ". Beers are:
Anderson Valley Hop Ottin' PA
Odell St. Lupulin
Deschutes Fresh Squeezed PA
Actual tasting notes:
Beer 1: Delicious. Balanced bitter-sweet with pleasant lingering flavors
Beer 2: Deeper dryness. Satisfying... but flavor really gets bitter as it evolves. By contrast, sipping Beer 1 again is a refreshing break to cut through 2's bitterness.
Beer 3: Pleasant flavor. Sort of non-descript in comparison to Beer 1. Not as bitter as Beer 2. Another sip of 1 by contrast shows that 1 just has a more complex and interesting flavor profile.
Revealing the beers:
Beer 1 (the "winner"): Deschutes Fresh Squeezed
Beer 2: Anderson Valley Hop Ottin'
Beer 3: Odell St. Lupulin
I have tried a few bottles of Lupulin the past month, and always found it pleasant, but it's revealing that when tasted blind vs. DFS it just doesn't quite measure up.
The fresh squeezed is good from what I remember but haven't had it in a while. Hop Ottin IPA was one of the beers I cut my teeth on in the late 90s. Haven't had one in a while but drank a good amount back in college when the market wasn't as saturated with the style as it is now. Perhaps I need to revisit
Not exactly an "everyday" PA, but tried the Evil Twin "Yuzu" pale ale this evening. Just alright. Reminded me of a lightly-fruited wheat beer like a very faint peach wheat or raspberry wheat. Nothing to hate, but nothing to really get excited about. Glad I tried it.
In Trader Joe's today I noticed that they had a Mendocino Brewing Company "Black IPA", which sounds kind of intriguing. It's only 6%, so that would fall within your criteria. (I didn't buy any because they also had Anchor Saison, which I had thought was gone for the season. 7.2%, so over the limit for this thread.)
Interesting mini-tasting last night:
Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Fresh Hop vs
Deschutes Fresh Squeezed
The SNSH held up really well. Nice mild to moderate bitter range, very fresh and well-made.
By comparison though, every sip of DFS yields just a more complex flavor with a more dramatic immediate impression.
All-in-all SNSH is very impressive and may in fact be better tasting to my palate than Torpedo or even SN Celebration. I still have a bottle of each of those so might do an exclusive Sierra Nevada tasting soon.
Picked up a mixed 12 PK from Sierra Nevada called 4-Way IPA. Contains Nooner Session IPA 4.8%, not bad at all. Doesn't feel thin like most. Snow Wit White IPA 5.7% which isn't bad either but, not as good as Chainbreaker. Blindfold Black and Torpedo Extra are included as well.
Blind Tasting June 12, 2014.
Bell's Two-Hearted PA
Deschutes Fresh Squeezed (the benchmark)
Firestone Walker Union Jack
Actual tasting notes follow:
Beer 1: Nice, fruity, almost missing a sharp bitter edge
Beer 2: Drier... almost puckery... I definitely prefer Beer 1 at this point
Beer 3: Nicely balanced... mildly bitter sweet.
Beer 4: Nice... balanced.... lingering flavor... slight bitterness predominates...
Initial results: Clear loser is Beer 2.
Beer 1 vs. 3: nearly a tie but sipping and re-sipping the nod goes to Beer 1
Beer 1 vs. 4: 4 is nice but the overall character is a little undefined in contrast to Beer 1 which is "yummy".
Beer 3 vs. 4; Somewhere around even.
Last sip of Beer 1: yes, just a more completely structured beer and slight winner over 3 and 4 which are both respectable, and Beer 2 which was just unpleasant.
Revealing the beers:
Beer 1: Deschutes Fresh Squeezed
Beer 2: Bell's Two-Hearted
Beer 3: Firestone Union Jack
Beer 4: Founder's Centennial
Interesting that Bell's 2-hearted was such a loser. Just found it at a liquor store across the state line where they have Bell's products... I haven't liked it in the past. Probably haven't had it for at least 7 years.... and don't care for it now. In contrast, Bell's Kalamazoo stout scored very highly in our stout tastings.