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What Is Pale Ale? Definition and Types

By
Lauren Platero
Table of Contents
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Pale ale dominates almost every bar menu. Though you may find yourself ordering this beer as if it’s similar from one to another, keep in mind that there are many factors within pale ale.

Even though there are many different types of alcohol, it can become pretty complex in the beer department (view a complete bartender's guide book). The name “pale ale” can also be deceiving, as pale ales aren’t always light in color. Many pale ale beers are brewed to be deep shades of amber and might even pair with different styles of glassware

Pale ales can be defined as a beer with an intense flavor profile yet modest enough to pair with different meals. The beer is made with moderate hops–the herb that gives the ale its flavor and bitterness. You’ll also taste a perfect blend of pale malt flavors.

Though you’ll notice that the flavors vary from one pale ale to the next, a balanced flavor profile is essential for creating the popular concoction. So, let’s dive into the history of where the famous beer comes from. 

Where Does Pale Ale Originate?

Pale ale originally came from England and began to evolve during the 18th century. Up until this era, English beers were dark in color, as the brewers had limited control over the roasting process. Once the English obtained the proper technology to brew ales at different roast intensities, variations of pale ale were born.  

The production of pale ales grew significantly during the two world wars. Raw materials were scarce, and brewers across England opted for the drinkable style. It was around this time that American craft beers were on the rise, so the consumption of pale ales was already a common choice at bars and restaurants. So when the United States was finally introduced to English pale ales, it quickly became another favorite. 

To this day, pale ales continue to evolve. Breweries worldwide specialize in crafting beer, as it’s a favorite alcoholic beverage. The balanced blend of ingredients, mild flavor, and enjoyable pairing with foods make for a go-to option. 

Pale Ale Flavor Profile 

Think of pale ale as a perfect balance of everything that should go into a beer. If you find yourself indecisive about whether to order a dark stout or a light lager, then ask the bartender for a pale ale. 

The low malt flavor and high “hoppiness” create an approachable flavor that is tasty but light. When making pale ale, brewers use a higher amount of hops. More hops produce a citrusy flavor, creating a more delicate flavor profile.

Citrus beers are also ideal for the summer. Be mindful that it’s possible for beer to expire, though it’s not harmful (learn more: when does beer expire and how long does a tapped keg last). Expired beer may taste odd, so it’s important to be familiar with the flavor profile of something new.

Types of Pale Ale

Pale ales are not made equal. From the levels of intensity that beer is brewed at to the numerous herbs that can adjust the flavor, pale ales can drastically differ from one to the next. With this in mind, there is a pale ale for every occasion.

Due to the number of ways that pale ales can be altered, be mindful of new options served by your local brewery. You may be surprised at what kinds of flavors can be created through the evolution of the original English ale. 

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular pale ale varieties served at your local bar: 

American Amber Pale Ale

As one of America’s favorite ales, it’s no surprise that the amber pale ale has a robust flavor profile. Caramel and crystal malts give amber ales the vibrant color, flavor, and body that so many consumers find enjoyable.

Crystal malts also give amber ales a medium-to-high malt profile with a low caramel profile. Here are two options you’ll find on many types of menus that create the most delicious combinations:

  • Any of your favorite summertime barbecue options are a great choice, as roasted malts complement seared or grilled proteins
  • Grilled, seared, or roasted menu items, which can be meat or vegetarian options

American Pale Ale

The classic pale ale is continuously evolving. Breweries across the United States are constantly reinventing the flavor profiles of their pale ales by sourcing local ingredients.

American pale ale is recognized as a fruity, floral beer with a medium-bodied flavor profile. It’s not as bitter as other ales and has a subtle flavor. If you want to pour a beer with your next meal, here are some of the most appropriate food pairings for American pale ale:

  • Classic American cuisines, such as grilled steak or burgers
  • Sweet and fruity dessert items, such as apple pie

Blonde Ale 

Golden or Blonde ales are a smooth, drinkable option containing many malts or hops. Many Americans gravitate towards blonde ales for their simplicity, rounded flavor, and aesthetically pleasing appearance. Blonde ales are also a common choice as a pairing with a wide selection of menu options. 

Do you want to try a blonde ale with dinner? We recommend ordering one of these popular menu items:

  • Light and fresh sandwiches or main courses perfectly match blonde ale (for example, Caprese salad or mozzarella and tomatoes on ciabatta would pair well)
  • Spaghetti and meatballs are a great option–though they’re heavier than the meals listed above, the toasty malt flavor pairs well with this Italian classic

English-Style Bitter 

Beer with lower alcohol content (or ABV) is an option regarding pale ale (learn how to calculate ABV). English bitters are also known to have fewer calories than other beer selections.

An English-style bitter is a lighter, aromatic ale. English bitters contain fewer malts and are favorable for their fruity and citrus flavors, despite the term “bitter” being in its name.

Hop-specific tastes and unique shade ranges make English bitters similar to wine selections. However, keep in mind that the two beverages are significantly different.

The acidic wine compounds result in their sweetness from fermented grapes, whereas beer requires the use of hops (learn more about the least acidic wine). The bitterness in the taste of English ale is mild and can add a touch of sweetness to any meal. 

If you want to order an English-style bitter from the bar but are unsure of what to get from the kitchen, opt for one of the following (here are some other drinks to know as a bartender):

  • Roasted chicken and pork are suitable options, as the simpler flavors bring out the notes in the ale
  • Fish and chips are a traditional combo that pairs perfectly with the ale of the same origin
  • Many food critics and types of chefs suggest drinking English bitters with nutty desserts or oatmeal raisin cookies, as the subtle sweetness can complement the ale’s fruity flavor palette 

English-Style Pale Ale 

Also known as “extra special bitter” (ESB), English-style pale ale displays an even balance between malt and hop bitterness. Aromatic English hops are implemented to give the ale a slightly pungent flavor and are evident in the fruitiness in the taste and scent. 

It’s an oldie but goodie, so we’re confident in recommending the following dishes for your historical glass of ale:

  • Simple, traditional meals are often delicious compliments to English ale, as a more subdued flavor profile in the meal maintains the balance of potency and flavor notes
  • Bread puddings in various sweet, decadent flavors pair well with the light taste

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Frequently Asked Questions About Pale Ale

What’s the Difference Between Pale Ale and IPA Beer?

IPA is the abbreviation for India Pale Ale. Though it is another type of beer in the ale family, it differs from pale ale for its intensity and flavor potency. 

Is Pale Ale the Same as Ale?

Pale ale is a type of ale most popular in the generalized category of beer. The names come from the lighter shade due to pale malts. Pale ale types will appear in color palettes of gold and copper instead of rich shades of brown. By using pale malts, brewers achieve a more even malt-to-hop ratio. 

Does Pale Ale Have Alcohol?

Yes, pale ales are alcoholic beverages and should only be consumed by individuals above the age of 21 years old. As always, drink responsibly!