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Style Matters - Pale Ales
In each issue, CBQ spotlights a particular beer style and provide tips from an ingredient and fermentation perspective. In this issue, which is timed around the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, CO, we take a closer look at Pale Ales. Pale Ales are traditionally one of the most entered and most competitive categories at the festival.

Malt Notes: An American twist on a venerable British style, American pale ale is one of the most popular styles of beer brewed by craft brewers today. Pale in color, bitter, with a strong hop flavor and aroma, these beers are found in nearly every brewpub and as the signature beer of many production breweries. American Pale Ales differ from their British counter part in their balance between hops and malt.

American Pale Ales tend to emphasize more aggressive hop character over malt flavors. The malt for these styles should provide the backdrop from which the hops stand out. We would suggest two ways of formulating the grain bill. The first would be to use a high quality 2-row Pale Ale malt as the sole malt in the grist. The Pale Ale malt needs to have been kilned long enough to have the color potential needed in a pale ale. Cargill Special Pale, with a color of 3-4 L, and a full flavor would be our suggestion if this is the route you would like to go.

Another possibility is to use both a base malt and a specialty malt. Here again we would suggest a solid 2-row malt, like our Cargill Two Row (1.5 –2.5 L), for the base. It is a blend of Kendall and Metcalfe giving it more flavor then many other domestic barley varietals. In order to give more color to the beer a specialty malt will probably have to be used. Our pick would be a caramel malt. Pauls Caramalt (10 – 15 L), Dingemans Cara 8, or on the domestic side our Cargill Caramel 10 are all great options. Another suggestion would be to use Pauls Mild Ale, a dextrin malt, which will give a sweeter, chewier beer.

— Cargill Malt

Hop Notes: For American-style pale ales, the signature hop is the craft brewing favorite Cascade. The signature beer associated with this style is Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale. This style has a very moderate to strong hop aroma and hop flavor is moderate to high in US citrus hops such as Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Crystal and Ahtanum. The bittering hops noted are Magnum, Columbus, Horizon, and Nugget. The beer should have an IBU level from 30-45%.

If dry hopped it should have some grassy notes. Other examples of American Style Pale Ales are Deschutes Mirror Pond, Summit Brewing Pale Ale and Anderson Valle Poleeko Gold Pale Ale just to mention a few. This is one of our favorite styles at Hopunion and is a good complement to any IPA.

— Hopunion CBS

Yeast and Fermentation Notes: The following advice comes from Chris White, president of White Labs.

"We have concentrated on some of the interesting and sometimes esoteric beer styles in this space in the past, and we have received many "thank yous" from brewers regarding these pieces. This time, we turn to the gold standard of craft beer — American pale ales, although I will also address the British style as well.

The following will show you that while many of these beers share similar characteristics, they can and should differ widely depending on what the brewer is seeking to make.

You will want to read on after this yeast advice to learn a tip from a fellow brewer about how he manipulated his water supply to improve his pale ales.

When thinking about yeast choices for your pale ale, you will want to select one that will bring out hop characteristics. This is why WLP001 California Ale Yeast is our most popular offering.

If you are seeking to make an English style pale ale, I suggest trying our WLP002 English Ale Yeast. While this yeast also works well with hops, it is not as hop-forward as WLP001 California Ale Yeast. Thus, it will impart less hop flavor and bitterness.

A third option is WLP028 Edinburgh Ale Yeast. This yeast imparts more malt flavor than WLP001, but it also promotes good hop flavor. Thus, if you are happy with WLP001 for its hop contributionsbut want to have more malt flavor, consider experimenting with WLP028.

Regardless of the strain you choose — you may even want to experiment with combining the two strains I mentioned above — you need to keep one thing in mind, and this might sound controversial.

I suggest that you do not want a high pitching rate, because pitching too much yeast will not allow the proper favor compounds to develop. Yes, you will get a vigorous and fast fermentation, but with pale ale in particular I urge patience. For beers at 10 to 12 plato, pitch your yeast at 7 million cells per mil. This translates into about a pound or liter of slurry per barrel.

Many people pitch yeast at twice this amount.

Another tip: Try making an unfiltered pale ale for comparison purposes, if you are not already do so. I think you will be shocked at how different the pales taste.

Let me also digress a minute to explain the changes over time in the way yeast works with pale ales. Before yeast was isolated and grown in a laboratory setting, pale ales had some phenolic and sulphur characteristics. In short these beers had too much yeast character and off flavors. Today, with industrial yeast, pale ales showcase more of the hop and malt ingredients.

But don’t forget what yeast can do for these beers!"

— Chris White, White Labs

Brewer comment: The following advice is provided by Colin Kaminski, brewmaster at Downtown Joe’s in Napa, Calif., since 2003. For the past year, Colin has experimented with water in his beers, including pale ales.

"I am no expert in water or water chemistry but it has been the focus of our brewery for this year. After a year of research we have identified a few things that can benefit all breweries. One of the most important things to get right in a Pale Ale is the water. Pale malts do not provide much acidity and without care it is easy to get your boil pH too high. Here our water is very alkaline. We use acids to reduce our alkalinity. We have found the boil pH needs to be between 5.2 to 5.4. 5.2 makes a nice pleasing hop flavor where 5.4 makes a stronger hop flavor. Kolbach’s equations work well for us to calculate our mash pH.

We like to set the water chemistry first and not add acid to the mash. Once you have the boil pH dialed in the next thing to consider is the ratio of sulfate to chloride. We prefer a high ratio for our pale ales. A high ratio makes the beers taste drier and crisper. A lower ratio makes the beer fuller and rounder.

We have 1,400+ batches of Irish Ale yeast experience. We have tested its qualities over time and can say a few things about it. It does not leave as much residual sugars as an average yeast. It does not flocculate as well as some yeasts. It is very robust to storage conditions. It does not require much O2 and will blow off in ferments with too much O2.

It stores well up to 14 days and good pitches can be harvested as early as 4 days. The flavor differences between 4 days and 14 days are minimal. It tends to be a sulfur producer but the sulfur tends to decline after 10 days. Once the strain starts to produce sulfur we discard it.

We have recently started to use English Ale yeast. We find it is quite fragile but we like the beers it produces greatly. We have used it in all English ale styles. It took us 30 batches to get enough experience with it to be consistent.

I think this is an important lesson. Yeast health is of prime importance with this strain and it does not store well. We like to repitch after 7 to 8 days. We also adjust O2 levels based on the yeast age, pitching rate and starting gravity. Good control of O2 levels is important.

We also find this yeast is sensitive to rapid temperature fluctuations and we try to warm cold yeast slowly before repitching. Its high flocculence makes it great for the production of unfiltered beers. It does tend to compact tightly on the bottom of the fermenter and can make it difficult to harvest. Often a half hour or more is required to harvest yeast. It is very sensitive to autolysis and needs to be separated from the beer promptly."