A Pale Ale Isn’t Just A Pale Ale #BrewedAwakening
My topic this week arose from a couple of inspirations. First, a beer loving friend of mine was dissing St. Ambroise online for being a boring blonde, and I had to speak up. Secondly, Upstreet (Charlottetown, PEI) Do Gooder APA arrived on the shelves at my local liquor store, and I had to try it. These two beers got me thinking.
The term “Pale Ale” is misleading. In England, it is just the term for a bottled ale that would otherwise be called a bitter when served as a real ale on cask. Bottled English Pale Ales generally lack the hop complexity and texture of a dry hopped cask ale, so they are easily forgotten as rather bland, inoffensive ales.
APA, or American Pale Ale, is a completely different beer style. This American variation is higher alcohol (usually around 5.5%) than its English counterpart, and has much more intense hopping with citrussy/spicy/floral west coast hops. In the early days, it was always Cascade, but these days there are many more hops to choose from.
St. Ambroise (you don’t need to say pale ale, as anyone with experience knows St. Ambroise means the original pale ale) from Montreal was one of the first really good microbrewed ales in Canada, being the flagship beer of McAuslan, founded in 1989. It deserves “classic” status. It has a delicious fruitiness to go along with a solid malt backbone, and is hopped to a perfect balance, a generous 35 IBUs, making it one of those beers that you can drink several pints of without frying your palate.
It’s kind of amusing that 35 IBUs was considered high at the time this beer was released, whereas now it is not uncommon for new beer nerds to call beers under 50 IBUs “low in bitterness.” It’s ridiculous, actually.
NOTE: In Quebec they use the term ‘blonde’ to refer to everything from a pale ale to a Belgian ale to a lager, so the term blonde should not be used as a catch all descriptor for pale beer in the rest of Canada.
Original owners Peter McAuslan and head brewer Ellen Bounsall decided to retire in 2013, and sold the brewery to Les Brasseurs RJ, but the recipes have remained the same. St A is still a great pale ale, excellent on draft or in the bottle. Interestingly, the St. A Cream Ale on tap is just a nitro version of the Pale Ale. Nitro just knocks the crap out of the hop aroma, flavour and bitterness.
As for the Upstreet, Do-Gooder is more in line with the standard APAs of today. It is very bitter for a pale ale at 45 IBUs (although described by some Ratebeer ding dongs as ‘moderately bitter’), and 5.5% alcohol. That level of alcohol and bitterness is an American IPA, in my books (BJCP guidelines for American IPAs start at 40 IBUs and 5.5% alcohol). This said, Do-Gooder is fresh, well made, and I love the label, particularly the cat in the crook of the arm of the superhero (or is he a hockey player?). Either way, that’s very Canadian.