Pale Ales vs India Pale Ales

When I first started to learn about beer and beer styles, two styles always confused me: the Pale Ale, sometimes called American Pale Ale (abbreviated APA), and an India Pale Ale (IPA).

I shied away from these two types because I had been bitter-bitten before: beer bitterness appears to be an acquired taste, and if you step into an IPA before you’re ready, you may not try one again for a while.

First, let’s begin with a little history.  Both pale ales and IPA’s started out in Europe, mainly in England.  For pale ales, many English breweries from Burton on Trent became famous, most notably the Bass Brewery.  These breweries became famous because the city’s water supply had many dissolved salts from the surrounding mountains, and allowed a higher proportion of hops to be added.  Since hops are a natural preservative, this allowed the beer to stay fresh longer and it could be shipped further.  This, combined with a type of malted barley called “pale malt” gave the beer its name and character.

Around the 18th century, a man by the name of George Hodgson, owner of Bow Brewery (also in the Burton on Trent area) created the world’s first India Pale Ale.  The story is that the soldiers fighting in India wanted to quench their thirst with beer, but most beer couldn’t make the journey from England to India without spoiling.  To preserve the beer, the brewery increased the amount of hops and alcohol.  Because of this, there were very few spoilage organisms that could grow in such a harsh environment.  The East India Trading Company delivered the beer to India, and the troops were “hoppy”.

Until the rise of porter in England, these beers were very popular.

Fast forward a few centuries to the growth of the U.S. craft beer revolution.  In 1980, Ken Grossman founded the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California. One of his first recipes was an American Pale Ale using hops grown in the Pacific Northwest, known to have a strong citrus character.  To this day, this recipe has made Sierra Nevada world renowned, and the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale continues to be one of the most popular APA’s available.

In terms of IPA’s, imagine an APA only stronger and more hoppy.  Most IPA’s have more body, alcohol, and hop flavor and aroma than an APA.  When creating IPA’s, most brewers tend to use high-strength hops for a lot of bitterness and strong hop flavor.  One great example of an IPA is Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo IPA, but, currently, there are many IPA’s available.

Also, not to be outdone, several U.S. brewers continue to push the envelope and many have created Double IPA’s, with much more hops, body, and alcohol.

So which type is right for you?  If you are just starting, you may want to ease into a nice Pale Ale.  If you’ve tried a pale ale, and want even more hops, go ahead and try an IPA.  Before you know it, you may end up being a person who enjoys highly-hopped beer, or a “hop head”.

Beer of the Day: Alaskan Amber

Alaskan Amber
Alaskan Amber

Found the Alaskan Amber (Alaskan Brewing Co., Juneau Alaska) at the local beer store (John’s Grocery) and so far it was a great intro in getting ready for Spring beers. The Alaskan Amber had a lager-like smoothness with a sturdy malt fullness. I would have to say it was easy drinking and refreshingly light. Sweet malt in the aroma, with some ale-like fruitiness, but the flavor is long, smooth and pure. It all finishes off with a hint of sweetness giving way to a wine-like dryness.

I’m going to Alaska in a couple of weeks, so I can’t wait to try out some more offerings from Alaskan Brewing Co.!

Have you tried the Alaskan Amber?  What did you think?

Brewed Saison Update

A week ago, I spoke about brewing a saison.  The temperature fluctuated a bit, but stayed around the 75-85 degree range.  After about 3 days, the fermentation process appeared to stop, but I recalled from Farmhouse Ales that there may be a chance the process wasn’t yet done.

5 days later (8 days total), in the morning, I heard the airlock start bubbling again.  I’m going to let it continue for another week or two before transferring the beer to a keg.

Samuel Adams Noble Pils

Alaskan Amber
Samuel Adams Noble Pils

I had the chance to sample Samuel Adams latest seasonal today, Samuel Adams Noble Pils.  It has replaced their White Ale as the spring seasonal.  It is a Pilsner style of beer that uses 5 different types of noble hops, which are the type of hops found in the hop-growing region of Germany (4 of the 5 come from there), and the Czech Republic (1 of the 5).  More specific details can be found at

It was a very hop-forward type of beer with strong bitterness, and was very light and crisp.  I believe the hoppiness was much stronger that a standard Pils, and I have a feeling that folks wanting the hop-presence of a Pale Ale with the lightness of a Pils will find this very enjoyable.  Because the hops are noble, there is more of a spicy hop flavor and aroma than the standard citrusy flavor and aroma found in most U.S. pale ales.

Have you tried the Noble Pils?  What did you think?

History of Beer in Iowa

In 1919, congress passed the 18th constitutional amendment, making the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol for consumption illegal.  This dark time in American history was called prohibition.  During this time, the illegal production and distribution of alcohol became rampant, because the government had no means to enforce the act. In 1933, the ratification of the 21st amendment repealed the 18th amendment, allowing alcohol to become legal again.

After prohibition, control of alcohol laws was granted to the states.  This is when Iowa law 123.3 was written, along with many others like it.

The main issue with this law is the definition of beer: “Beer” means any liquid capable of being used for beverage purposes made by the fermentation of an infusion in potable water of barley, malt, and hops, with or without unmalted grains or decorticated and degerminated grains or made by the fermentation of or by distillation of the fermented products of fruit, fruit extracts, or other agricultural products, containing more than one-half of one percent of alcohol by volume but not more than five percent of alcohol by weight but not including mixed drinks or cocktails mixed on the premises. (I have emphasized the important part).

What this means to the average beer drinker is that any beer over 5% ABW (~6.2% ABV) is no longer considered beer, but is then considered a liquor.  Once it is considered a liquor, it no longer is distributed by the local distributors, and instead is distributed by the government-run Iowa Alcohol Beverages Division (IABD) in Ankeny, Iowa.  This becomes a large issue because, even though beer can be perishable, and may need to be refrigerated, because it is considered a liquor, it is not handled properly.  This is one reason several brewers, such as Founders Brewing and some Bell’s Brewery products, stay out of Iowa distribution.  This law also prohibits local breweries and brewpubs to create any beer over this percentage, making much more difficult to compete with out-of-state breweries, who can be distributed through the IABD.

In recent years, because of the growth of Craft Beer in the US, many of these laws have been changed to increase the definition of “beer” to be up to 12% to 18%, but Iowa has not changed this law.  There had been a grassroots movement several years ago to raise this limit, and was created.  This encouraged others to speak out about the law.  Because of movements like these, and the growing acceptance of craft brewing, in early 2010, SF 2091 was written, which would raise the allowable value to 12% ABW (15% ABV), and would create a separate license for higher-alcohol beers to be brewed in Iowa.  This legislation was then rolled into SF 2088, an Iowa government reorganization bill (don’t try and read the whole thing- it may may you dizzy).

So, as it stands, the reorganization bill, as amended, has passed the Iowa Senate, and has been messaged to the House, where it is close to making this archaic law become a thing of the past.  I say, good riddance!

For more information, you can read up on US prohibition and beer in the US.  There’s also a pretty neat timeline at

What do you think?  Will this be a beer renaissance for Iowa?