Beer Styles

Beer Styles

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One of the most common beers in the United States is the American Pale Ale, or APA. This beer is found in many forms, but they can all trace their history back to common ancestry. Let’s take a look at how this beer came about and what makes a beer an APA.



The History of the APA

The American Pale Ale, can trace it’s lineage back to British Pale Ales. As with many beers found in the United States, the history of British beer left its mark here as well. The APA has grown from it’s English heritage into a more hop and malt driven style than the British had intended. The most common, and quite possibly the best, example of an American Pale Ale is Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale out of Chico, CA.


Another American Pale Ale, which is generally considered to be the perpetuator of them all is Liberty Ale by Anchor Brewing Co. in San Francisco, CA. It was first brewed on April 18th, 1975 for the 200th anniversary of Paul Revere’s historic ride. It is believed by most in the industry that Anchor is the brewery that kicked off the Craft Beer revolution in America, and also that Liberty Ale is the quintessential American Pale Ale. Remember from the earlier post on Beer Glasses To Use, that a good nonick or shaker pint glass will fit an American Pale Ale best.



What Makes Up An American Pale Ale?

Let’s take a look at the specifics of what an APA is, as seen in the 2008 BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) Guidelines.


  • Aroma: Usually moderate to strong hop aroma from dry hopping or late kettle additions of American hop varieties. A citrusy hop character is very common, but not required. Low to moderate maltiness supports the hop presentation, and may optionally show small amounts of specialty malt character (bready, toasty, biscuity). Fruity esters vary from moderate to none. No diacetyl. Dry hopping (if used) may add grassy notes, although this character should not be excessive.
  • Appearance: Pale golden to deep amber. Moderately large white to off-white head with good retention. Generally quite clear, although dry-hopped versions may be slightly hazy.
  • Flavor: Usually a moderate to high hop flavor, often showing a citrusy American hop character (although other hop varieties may be used). Low to moderately high clean malt character supports the hop presentation, and may optionally show small amounts of specialty malt character (bready, toasty, biscuity). The balance is typically towards the late hops and bitterness, but the malt presence can be substantial. Caramel flavors are usually restrained or absent. Fruity esters can be moderate to none. Moderate to high hop bitterness with a medium to dry finish. Hop flavor and bitterness often lingers into the finish. No diacetyl. Dry hopping (if used) may add grassy notes, although this character should not be excessive.
  • Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium body. Carbonation moderate to high. Overall smooth finish without astringency often associated with high hopping rates.
  • Overall Impression: Refreshing and hoppy, yet with sufficient supporting malt.
  • History: An American adaptation of English pale ale, reflecting indigenous ingredients (hops, malt, yeast, and water). Often lighter in color, cleaner in fermentation by-products, and having less caramel flavors than English counterparts.
  • Comments: There is some overlap in color between American pale ale and American amber ale. The American pale ale will generally be cleaner, have a less caramelly malt profile, less body, and often more finishing hops.
  • Ingredients: Pale ale malt, typically American two-row. American hops, often but not always ones with a citrusy character. American ale yeast. Water can vary in sulfate content, but carbonate content should be relatively low. Specialty grains may add character and complexity, but generally make up a relatively small portion of the grist. Grains that add malt flavor and richness, light sweetness, and toasty or bready notes are often used (along with late hops) to differentiate brands.


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