Brew With Us: What’s behind the “pale ale” style? And what do those codes on the label mean? Find out as you prepare to make your own beer with help from Seattle Times homebrewers Niko and Audrey.
Before we brew an American pale ale on May 30 — and teach you how to do the same at home — we thought we’d explain our recipe and the defining traits of our brew choice.
An American pale ale is a crisp, clean and slightly bitter beer made from malted grains and hops, which tend to have citrusy and piney aromas. In our recipe, that aroma will come from the Cascade hops added toward the end of the boil.
We’ve modeled our recipe off Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, one of the most famous commercial examples of this style of beer and one of the earliest — the first experimental batch was brewed in 1980. Many readers participating and brewing with us will likely have tasted this pale ale — if you haven’t, grab a bottle (available at most grocery stores) and try it to get a good idea of what we’ll be seeking to emulate.
Brewing timelineWhat we’ll accomplish in the weeks ahead
- Brew day (4-5 hours): We'll make the beer starting on May 30. Read part of the recipe covering Brew Day.
- Fermentation (2+ weeks): Deadline to start fermentation is June 6. Read part of the recipe covering fermentation.
- Bottling and conditioning (10+ days): Deadline to bottle beer is June 27. Read part of the recipe covering bottling.
- Drink! The beer will be ready to drink as soon as July 4.
Breweries often describe beer styles with these key measures:
- ABV (alcohol by volume) measures the amount of alcohol in a given amount of liquid. For American pale ales, the standard style reference is between 4.5 to 6.2 percent ABV. Calculate the ABV in a beer.
- IBU (International Bittering Unit) measures the bitterness of a beer from bittering acids in hops. For American pale ales, the standard style reference is between 30 to 50 IBUs. Calculate the IBUs in a beer.
- SRM (Standard Reference Method) measures the color of a beer. For American pale ales, the standard style reference for brewers is between SRM 5 to 10. Calculate the SRM of a beer.
- OG (original gravity) measures the density of wort before fermentation, indicating the amount of fermentable sugars present. For American pale ales, the standard style reference for brewers is to aim between 1.045 to 1.060 gravity units. Calculate the OG and FG (below) of a beer.
- FG (final gravity) measures the density of beer after fermentation, indicating how much of the fermentable sugars were converted to alcohol. For American pale ales, the standard style reference for brewers is to aim between 1.010 to 1.015. Calculate the OG and FG of a beer.
How is beer made?Water + malt + hops + yeast. Learn what goes into beer and the processes in brewing.
For the American pale ale that we are brewing, here are the beer’s anticipated stats based on our recipe:
ABV: 4.8 percent
You can see that our beer will be relatively low alcohol, more bitter and light-hued as far as American pale ales go.
The American pale ale dates back to the beginning of the modern craft-brewing tradition, which picked up steam in the 1980s. In the early ’80s, there were as few as 93 breweries nationwide, growing to 1,521 by 2008 and more than 3,200 by 2014, according to the Brewers Association.
A lot of brewing tradition and recipes were lost during Prohibition, leading to a very homogeneous beer market — think light lagers — dominated by large breweries such as Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors. As consumers’ tastes changed and craft-beer culture grew, brewers looked to other traditions to influence America’s new styles. Many looked to British styles, and from British pale ales were born American pale ales.
U.S. brewers made use of primarily American ingredients, namely different strains of hops, accounting for differences in styles between American and British pale ales.
The line is more blurry between American pale ales and American-style India pale ales, which are stronger than pale ales and more bitter and aromatic caused by heavier hopping. Some home brewers will simply change the style classification of a beer from a pale ale to an India pale ale if it tastes more bitter than expected.