Friday, May 27, 2016

American Pale Ale Rising

Earlier this month, Great Divide took the 17-year-old recipe of its third-best-selling beer and kicked it to the curb. It wasn't that people weren't buying Denver Pale Ale anymore; it's just that brewery founder Brian Dunn felt that the English-style pale ale was outdated and needed to be replaced with an American pale ale more attuned to the modern palate.

On June 5, Odell Brewing will introduce Drumroll (see below), its American pale ale that will be sold beside its traditional but subtle 5-Barrel Pale Ale. Press releases emphasize that it will be "bold, juicy ... and tropically hop-forward," differentiating itself from the existing pale ale in its lineup.

So, what is going on here? Two things, really. First, brewers are recognizing that the loyalists who have been drinking IPA for the past decade want something less alcoholic, like a pale ale, now that they are having children and aging into their 40s. But they also see that the traditional step down in ABV among hoppy beers to a pale wasn't rewarding the floral-seeking taste buds of those drinkers.

"We fell that it just needed to be modernized a bit," Dunn said in an interview about the new DPA. "We felt that we needed to update the beer to reflect the changes that have happened in Denver."

When Dunn was developing the DPA recipe in the late 1990s, Bass Ale was all the rage in town, and he wanted something that resembled that. He got a malty, subtly hopped 5.5 percent ABV beer that caught the imagination of the more limited craft beer scene and met the expectation of drinkers then.

That was before Titan IPA and its grassy, big hops became the best-seller for the Denver brewery, however. And that was before double IPAs became standard issuance and triple IPAs began to show up in cans to meet the increasing demand for hoppy beers that were edgier and had more bite.

So, gone from DPA are Centennial, Sterling and Golding hops — the last one of that trio the most English of English-style hops. And in are Centennial and Simcoe, two hops that scream American yearning for something more citrus and more bitter.

And the DPA, which will be sold only in Colorado in six-packs and on draft, really is an improved beer with them. Though still not a product that anyone would mistake for a biting IPA, its got a carbonated and slightly acidic bite on the front and a woody, mellow hop feel on the back of the sip. And at 5% ABV, it's a little more session-able than its predecessor recipe.

Does it signal that an American pale ale uprising is around the corner, with the style being begged for like IPAs or sours today? No. People will continue to want to see brewers push the envelope past this easy-drinking pleasure.

But it does portend that, like the amber and copper ales that once dominated Colorado taps, the English-style pale ales that represented a gateway into craft in the 1990s may be on the ropes, replaced domestically by a more assertively hopped pale that will help to define American craft beer going forward.

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