By Gail Oberst
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Saying you love pale ales is like saying you love beer. But of course you love at least one rendition of this versatile style. An American pale ale might be a blond, a red or amber, an India pale ale or even a farmhouse ale. Almost anything made predominantly with grains that have been dry roasted to a pale-colored malt is a pale ale, even if added grains make it dark.
Most pale ales have British roots, but Oregon brewers graft those roots with delicious oddities. Where British pale ales might feature European malts, hops and yeasts, American pale ales feature American-grown hops, two-row malt and fewer yeasty flavors. In the Oregon favorites listed below, rye malt, orange peel and a variety of hops are featured on the smooth canvas of the pale ale.
This month’s consumer tasting was staged during the annual Big Brew Day at F.H. Steinbart Co. homebrew supply shop. While their beers brewed in the sunny Portland parking lot, homebrewers dropped by to sample Oregon pale ales donated by commercial brewers.
Ordnance: RX Pale Ale, Boardman 5.6 percent ABV, 34 IBUs
Brewer Description: Pouring a light straw color, this extra pale ale gets its spicy flavor from a healthy dose of rye malt. The rye spice combines nicely with Citra and Mosaic hops to bring you a beer that is just what the doctor ordered.
Consumer Comments: How good is that? Lingering hoppiness. Happiness. Spicy and light. Balanced backbones. Solid. Slight Nelson. Earthy and piney. Drinking this on a hike through Forest Park. Juniper?
Elk Horn: Protestant Pale Ale, Eugene 6 percent ABV, 40 IBUs
Brewer Description: A light-bodied pale for the warm summer daze. Brewed with Summit, Cascade and Amarillo hops.
Consumer Comments: The perfect summer beer. Floral and hoppy. Strong. Smooth, light and easy summer beer. Fruity and floral. Mango sweet and not too bitter. A great beer for people who don’t like IPA. Full Nelson. Nice sweetness. Dry finish. Less bitter.
Hopworks: IPX Mt. Hood Single Hop Ale, Portland 6 percent ABV, 60 IBUs
Brewer Description: This single-hop ale series highlights signature aromas and flavors of specific hop varieties that are further multiplied through our unique dry hop process. Geek out on the signature nuances. Known for clean bittering and mild aromas, the Salmon-Safe Certified Mt. Hood hop was used in this IPX beer.
Consumer Comments: Nutty! Nutty, smoky good. Refreshing! Fruity! Is that a noble hop flavor? Balanced and clean. A super session beer. Fruit -- are those oranges? Way too easy to drink -- can I have more?
Columbia River: CRB Pale Ale, Portland 6.5 percent ABV, 52 IBUs
Brewer Description: A very well-balanced strong Northwest-style pale ale with refreshing and hoppy characteristics all supported by the correct amount of malt. Light in color -- big in taste!
Consumer Comments: Fruity and smooth. I liked how it went down, from my tongue to my belly. Spicy, herbal, light and hoppy. Good head! Grapefruit. Nicely rounded. Best so far. A bouquet of hoppy goodness. Great hop nose and wonderful balance. Zesty. English?
13 Virtues: You Down With OPP?, Portland 5.0% ABV, 40 IBUs
Brewer Description: Are YOU down with our orange peel pale ale? The name says it all -- we've combined the zest of sweet orange peel in a hoppy Pacific Northwest pale ale. This beer is easy drinking, finishes dry and has great orange-citrus flavor.
Consumer Comments: Sweeter. Very smooth. Sweet and slightly hoppy. Good balance. Fruit and pine. I can taste the hops, too. Really good. Light hops and solid flavor. Light as a summer day.
Stormbreaker: Right as Rain Pale Ale, Portland 5.6 percent ABV, 36 IBUs
Brewer Description: We set out to make our pale ale a pale ale, and not a baby IPA. It’s crisp and easy drinking with mild herbal, floral and citrus notes. The wort is hopped with U.S. Goldings, Centennial and Summer hops, which lends a smoother, less harsh bitterness for a clean finish that is indeed “right as rain.”
Consumer Comments: Lager-y finish. Skunky, in a good way. Hoppiest by far. Great pine bitterness. Run me up a pine tree and call me “beer.” Is it saison or farmhouse beer or is it just good? I like this taste. This is my favorite.
Ninkasi: Spring Reign, Eugene 6 percent ABV, 38 IBUs
Brewer Description: A lightly toasted British-style malt flavor balanced by bright Northwest-style hops. Spring forward with this refreshing seasonal ale. Notes of toasted malt up front, with a bright and crisp Northwest hop finish. It’s a session beer that everyone can enjoy!
Consumer Comments: Hoppy! Smooth, light and very nice. Malty. Good, sharp hop finish. Very nice balance. Sessionable, great beer. Second flavor wave, good! Simple and delicious. Pleasant fruit aroma. Smooth finish. Golden flowers and ocean spray.
Oregon Beer Growler each month invites consumers to “blind” taste a different style or group of beers at various locations across the state.