Sub-categories: American Pale Ale, West Coast Pale Ale, New England Pale Ale, DDH Pale Ale, Belgian Pale Ale, Extra Pale Ale, Session Pale Ale/Table Beer/Small Beer
ABV: 2.5% - 6%
key characteristics: crisp, hoppy & refreshing
best drunk fresh. store cold. serve a little bit warmer than fridge temperature
Pale Ales should be the starting point for any beer explorer. They’re light, refreshing and have a clean hop bitterness that’s rounded out with a biscuity sweetness from the lightly toasted, “pale” malts. They’re not as hop-forward or bitter as their IPA counterparts, and are great for long sessions as they’re lower in ABV but don’t compromise on flavour.
Pale Ales began to rise in prominence towards the late 1700s when advancements in kilning techniques allowed malt producers to make lighter coloured barley. Today, Pale Ale and its various sub-categories are some of the most widely available beers in the world. Here is a run-down of popular takes on the broad Pale Ale category…
The OG when it comes to what we think of as craft beer are American Pale Ales. APAs are full of piney, citrusy US hops but have a toasty malt base to back it all up. These are place to start if you want to explore modern, hoppy styles.
Beer marketed as a West Coast Pale Ales tend to be more bitter and hop forward than your standard APA, but they’re still very similar as many APAs have their origins on the US West Coast. The smaller sibling to a West Coast IPA, WCPAs have a dominant hop bitterness with citrusy, piney flavours and a biscuity malt backbone. These beers are ideal for those looking to take the next step in their beer journey but aren’t quite ready for the big 7%’ers.
If bitterness isn’t your thing, New England Pale Ales are the way to go. A modern style which has dominated craft beer for the last ten years, NEPA’s are soft, juicy and low in bitterness. These beers broke up the rulebook in terms colour and are super hazy; they’re even sometimes marketed as “hazy” pales. Expect flavours of tropical fruit, citrus and big hop aroma with low levels of bitterness. A lot of beers marketed as just ‘Pale Ale’ from modern breweries will be of the hazy variety.
Any Pale Ale can be a DDH Pale Ale, but this label is usually applied to the hazy, New England stuff. DDH simply stands for ‘Double Dry Hopped’ – put simply, this means most of the hops have been added during or after fermentation, but crucially not when the beer is being boiled. The result is that no bitterness is extracted from the hops, but you still get the juicy, fruity flavours coming through. Beers labelled ‘DDH’ are usually hoppier than beers that aren’t. DDH Pale Ales are ideal for those who don’t want a super bitter beer, but still want to get a healthy dose of hops.
Speaking of extra doses, what’s the fuss with Extra Pale Ales? A bit of a highly contested term, beers with this on the label will either be a) slightly stronger than a regular Pale Ale but not as strong as IPA, or b) lighter in colour and with deeper flavour and aroma than your standard Pale Ale – however, we’re not sure anyone really knows what Extra Pale Ale really means.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for something lighter, try either a Session Pale Ale, a Small Beer or a Table Beer. All of these terms refer to beers that are lighter in ABV and more approachable in terms of flavour. They’re ideal for those who are planning a long session but still want something hoppier than a standard lager.
Developed by Belgian breweries to compete with British breweries in the early 1900s, Belgian Pale Ales are pretty similar to your standard pale but with Belgian yeast which gives the beer a fruitier, spicier flavour. Belgian Pale Ales are a good bridge for anyone looking to get into traditional Belgian ales but want something a little lighter and less funky. If you like funky beers, read all about sour beer here.
Pale Ales are a great category of beer to look into if you’re starting your beer journey or just want something a bit lighter. They taste great with English cheeses such as cheddar, and casual foods like burgers and pizza. They’re super approachable and widely available in any good bar, pub or bottle-shop.
Now you know all about Pale Ales, begin your beer adventure and shop for them here
credit where credits due. the majority of content in this part of our website has been written for us by Dan Lyons; a talented beer writer, homebrewer and all round beer enthusiast.