Friday Session: Pale in Comparison

For this month’s session the challenge was set to review and compare two pale ales, being a bottled beer fan I usually have quite a few beers in the house but finding two pale ales was a challenge

With the increase in popularity of strong flavoured and strength beers such as imperial stouts and IPAs the sessionable beer is often left in second place, as pale ales are usually of the weaker kind in terms both flavour and strength they are considered a second best beer.

The irony being that these beers should really be the shining lights as they are the ones which can be consumed in quantity without fear of overindulgence or the inevitable effects of strong beer. In a world where we are being constantly reminded of the ill effects on our health of drinking too much, the risks of being “over the limit” the morning after an evening out drinking and the escalating duty on alcohol, surely we should be considering the development of the pale ale.

So with this in mind this months Friday Session draws me to the neglected pale ales in my bottled beer collection – Marston’s Pale Ale and Hook Norton Haymaker.

The major difference between these two beers is their alcoholic strength, although the Haymaker is not exactly titanic in it’s strength at 5%ABV it still dwarfs the Marston’s Pale Ale which is a piddly 2.8%ABV. Having not tasted these before I am really hoping that the Marston’s is the better of the beers and maybe is a full flavour beer with a low alcoholic volume.

Both beers have a very similar smell, the Haymaker smelling slightly stronger – neither has a very distinct smell, something like cut wood, they smell fresh.
Again on tasting they are similar, slightly nutty in the middle, fading to a hopyness, the Marston’s being generally stronger in flavour but following the same pattern and ending in a slight tang of hops.

As pale ales go these two are not going to win anyone over to the cause, out of the two the Haymaker is definitely the more flavoursome however the Marston’s would bring me back for more, simply because the low alcohol would mean that it would be very sessionable. That said, given the choice of either of these and any other decent beer, I would go with the other beer.

This I think is the main problem with pale ales, the majority of the ones I seem to come across are weak in flavour, even worse they tend to be weak in flavour for their respective strength. There are I am sure really well balanced and flavoursome pale ales, but the majority of beers branded “pale ale” are weak and uninteresting – not that the style has to be.

The worst part of this is that often a pale ale is the standard bitter for a brewery (even if they insist on calling it “IPA”) and so the first contact that a new drinker will have with that brewery. This can put someone off right from the offset. If pale ales want to become a much more respected beer style then they need to become more flavoursome for their strength, not get stronger or more extreme (hop bitterness or deep maltyness) but a good amount of flavour for the strength.

Sadly this venture into bottled pale ales has not drawn me to them, perhaps I will try a few more or read the other participants experiences and see if there are some gems out there, but with all that is on offer and only a finite amount of time before last orders, I think I will stick with my preferred styles and only dip into pale ales when they look particularly interesting.

This month’s Session was hosted by the Beer Babe, visit their site to find links to the other contributions and a roundup of all the articles written this month.

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