American Pale Ale

Beer Style Guide: American PALE ALE

Rory Lawton

american pale ale

A beautiful pale ale. Don’t you just want it? (Foto: StP)

The American PALE ALE style is for you if you:

  • are new to craft beer and want to try a relatively modern beer style at the forefront of the changes the industry is undergoing.
  • like variety: more than almost any other beer style, the American Pale Ale has been interpreted in so many different ways.
  • visit a microbrewery with a focus on top-fermented styles and want to try the “house” beer.
American pale Ale

Pale Ales have pretty much taken over Germany’s craft beer scene as well. (Photo: StP)

Style History

Although the new wave of craft brewers focus largely on a modern American variation of the style, pale ale themselves have been brewed in Great Britain for over three hundred years. The invention of coke allowed malsters to finely control the temperature of the malting process and produce malts that were lighter in colour than the brown malts that had been used before. This resulted in a lighter, crisper top fermented beer style that would quickly gain a popular following – even becoming the inspiration for the invention of the Pilsner & Helles styles.

Although brewed for centuries with the traditional English hop varieties, it was the cultivation of new hop breeds in Oregon in the 1970s that provided the key ingredient that would facilitate the birth of the new American PALE ALE style. ‘Cascade’ hops in particular, with their strong citrus and tropical aromas, would be adopted by Anchor Steam and New Albion Brewing Company for the first American Pale Ales. A new beer style was born, that would be further developed by Sierra Nevada in their flagship Pale Ale, still considered to be the classic of the style today.

The American PALE ALE style demands that the brewer demonstrate their skills at producing a balanced, sessionable beer. It is a style that allows a much wider freedom of expression than, for example, a German Pilsner (that has a much narrower range of what is acceptable to style). It is no surprise then that the “house beer” for most new craft beer breweries is in the American Pale Ale style.

Beer Style Guide


 Appearance:Light straw to deep amber in colour.  Usually clear, although sometimes the (optional) use of dry-hopping will result in a mild haze.
ABV:Typically 4.5-6.0% ABV
Aroma:Pronounced hop aroma from late kettle additions. Malt aromas support but do not dominate the hop presentation. Fruity esters can be present.
Flavour:Hops dominate, with moderate to high hop character. Malt takes the back seat in these beers and the balance is typically towards late hops and a bitter finish.
Body:Medium-light to medium body, with a moderate level of carbonation.


American Pale Ale

Heartly recommended: Heidenpeters’s American Pale Ale at Markthallle Neun. (Photo: StP)

Recommended American PALE ALE Examples


  • Germany’s Finest: American Pale Ale – Heidenpeters, Berlin (DE). The best-seller from this young Berlin brewer, the American Pale ale is a tropical fruit explosion, with Amarillo and Citra dominating in the aroma. Unlike many German pale ales, this interpretation is bold and uncompromising. It has been a go-to beer for Berlin beer lovers in the know since the first keg was served.
  • The archetype: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale – Sierra Nevada Brewing Company (US). Founded in Chico, California in 1980, the flagship beer from Sierra Nevada really showcases Cascade hops and has become the archetype of the American Pale Ale. If you can find a fresh bottle, you will understand why.
  • The new Californian classic: Pale 31 – Firestone Walker Brewing Company (US). Cascade, Centennial and Chinook dominate the aroma. Slightly more robust malt body, due to the inclusion of some English malts. Like all Firestone Walker beers, this pale ale was also partially fermented in the Firestone Union oak barrel brewing system. A new classic.