English Pale Ale

Ok people – it’s still August and it’s still stinkin’ HOT out there.  Those Oktoberfest beers and Pumpkin Ales you already see lining every beer store entrance make me cringe about as much as seeing Santa pimped out on product displays in September.  So I know we’re all anxious to see playoff baseball, the NFL, and kids back in school, but let’s relax and enjoy what’s left of Summer with a nice, refreshing English Pale Ale.

“Pale” is a bit of a misnomer, in that it is nowhere near as pale in color as say a Pilsener or Light Lager – pale was a term just used back in the 1800s to distinguish this newer variety of beer from the typical dark Porters.  The body should be clear, and actually has anywhere from a gold to copper color.  Hark back to your last Bass Ale – the most common example of the style… even if they DO insist on spending their entire web site on promoting the silly Brolly tool to mix your perfectly fine Bass ale with the stout of your choice.

English Pale Ales are sometimes referred to as “Burton Pale Ale” (i.e. Burton-on-Trent, the original home city of the style) and/or “Bitter” (not bitter in the Keystone light ad kind of way).  These beers are often served with little to no carbonation from hand pumps … “real ale” in British terms.  The body should be light to medium, with well-balanced flavors and aromas featuring a moderate hoppy quality, fruity esters, and caramel sweetness – but finishing dry, with a firm bitterness.  Drinkability is the key here, and so they should have low alcohol levels and the aforementioned low carbonation – especially if served on a hand pump or cask.


Here’s a nice formal write up of the style from the Brewers Association:

“Classic English pale ales are golden to copper colored and display earthy, herbal English-variety hop character.  Note that “earthy, herbal English-variety hop character” is the perceived end, but may be a result of the skillful use of hops of other national origins.  Medium to high hop bitterness, flavor, and aroma should be evident. This medium-bodied pale ale has low to medium malt flavor and aroma. Low caramel character is allowable. Fruity-ester flavors and aromas are moderate to strong. Chill haze may be in evidence only at very cold temperatures. The absence of diacetyl is desirable, though, diacetyl (butterscotch character) is acceptable and characteristic when at very low levels.”

Food Pairings

Examples of the style which tend to be more bitter will pair well with the milder side of spicy foods from India and Asia.  The citrus hop flavors go exceptionally well with any dishes using cilantro, such as Mexican salsas.

Maltier varieties will go nicely with blander English pub fare … A plate of strong English cheese, such as farmhouse Cheddar or salty, sharp Stiltons.  For meals, think roasted chicken, or even rare roast beef with some tasty Yorkshire pudding (does it GET any better?).




Nothing fancy here – feel free to serve up your English Pale Ale in a standard pint glass… or if you’re feeling particularly proper that day, go for the Nonic-style pint which not only looks cooler, but gives you a better grip and holds more delicious beer.


What to Buy:

There are about 40 varieties of English Pale Ale that you can find here in Southeastern PA (…I love this area) – with the following three being both well-rated, and pretty readily available across your better bottle shops and distributors in the area:

Fuller’s London Pride, 4.7% ABV (London, England)

Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Pale Ale, 5% ABV (Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, England)

Brooklyn Pennant Ale, 5.2% ABV (umm, Brooklyn, NY I think?)

For additional options, check out our English Pale Ale page … and Leave a Reply below to let us know what you think about the style!

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