English Pale Ale

The History of English Pale Ale

English Pale Ale shares much in common with classic English Bitters.  The defining example of the style is arguably Bass Ale from Bass Brewery in Burton on Trent, England.  The Bass brewery was established by William Bass in 1777 as one of the first breweries in Burton on Trent.

Pale ale and bitters both are derived from English “real ales” which were widely produced in England in the 18th and 19th century, and originally served with little to no carbonation from hand pumped cellar kegs.

Pale ale can also trace its origins to the start of the industrial revolution in England.  The availability of both coal fuel and high quality steel allowed the production of pale colored malts in the early 1700’s.  Previously only brown and dark malts with smoky aroma were available due to the use of wood in malting.

The English Pale Ale Style

English Pale Ale has a medium high to moderate hoppy flavor and aroma.  Often a malt or caramel flavor and aroma is present, with a slight alcoholic warmth.  The hops should balance the caramel and malt flavor at a minimum, though many examples have a slightly hoppy balance.

The body of a Pale Ale is medium to full, and carbonation is generally low except for some bottled commercial or export ales.  The finish is generally dry with no secondary malt flavors, and no diceytl.  Fruity esters, often a byproduct of English ale yeast, is often present.

Original gravity is generally between 1.048 and 1.062, with 30-50 IBUs of bitterness.  Color is golden to deep copper (6-18 SRM).  Alcohol by volume is a healthy 4.6-6.2%.

Brewing an English Pale Ale

The base malt for English Pale Ale is english pale malt.  The classic type is English two row barley malt with low nitrogen content, traditionally a bit darker than classic pale malt due to the use of higher kilning temperatures.  Pale malt composes about 90% of the total grain bill.  For extract brewers, start with a pale base extract and add the appropriate color steeped caramel malt to achieve your desired color.

Crystal and caramel malts are used in most pale ales, both to add color and body.  Crystal generally makes up 5-10% of the total grain bill and is selected in a color to balance the overall target color.

Maltose syrup is used in many commercial pale ales, but is hard to find for use in home brewing.  Corn or cane sugar can be used in small quantities (generally less than 10%) to give a similar effect.

Wheat, cara-pils, or flaked barley are occasionally used in pale ales to add body.  Generally only a few percent are added, as any larger amount will result in a cloudy finish to the beer.  Chocolate and black malts are used very rarely in some recipes, but I recommend not including them in your pale ale.

BC Goldings and Fuggles hops are the favorite varieties for Pale ales.  Target, Northdown and Challenger are occasionally substituted.  My personal preference is BC Goldings.  Often three hop additions are used – one for boiling/bitterness, an aroma addition at the end of the boil and finally dry hops for added aroma after fermentation.

A single step infusion mash is sufficient for mashing a pale ale, as the highly modified English malt will convert easily.  A medium to high body mash profile (153-157 F) will give you an authentic rich bodied beer.

For Burton style English Pale Ales, the water profile is extremely high in Calcium Carbonate and Bicarbonate.  Burton water has 295 ppm Ca, 725 ppm Sulfate and 300 ppm Bicarbonate.  This exceptionally hard water accentuates the bitterness in the hops giving a sharp finish to the beer.  However, achieving the appropriate water balance can be difficult for homebrewers.  Usually a small amount of Gypsum (CaSO4) added to the brewing water is sufficient to give a slightly sharper finish.

English Pale Ale yeast is used for traditional Burton ales like Bass, and the major liquid yeast manufacturers even carry a special strain for Burton ales.  Other english ale yeasts are also popular with homebrewers for all types of pale ales.  Finally, many homebrewers use American ale yeast for its clean finish and neutral flavor.

Pale ale should be fermented and aged at traditional ale temperatures (generally 62-68F), lightly carbonated and served slightly warm if you are a traditional ale fan.  American brewers may prefer higher carbonation and a colder serving temperature.

Pale Ale Recipes

Here are some recipes from our BeerSmith Recipe Archive:

Thank you again for your continued support!

Brad Smith


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