So for Ale No. 6 in the Ales Bells series, I’m turning my attention back to Ale No. 4, the English-styled pale ale. Why? Because if I’m going to write about one pale ale, the English version, then I really need to write about the other to make the comparison. Therefore, next up: a new American pale ale.
As I previously wrote, the English pale ale tends to have a moderate level of carbonation, a clearer balance between malts and hops, with a slight edge to the malts, especially darker hops which impart more caramel. The hops, generally European in origin, yield some bitterness that works to balance out the sweetness of the malts but otherwise the hops play a supporting role. In the American pale ale (APA), the balance is still there, but the the hops are now leading this dance with a clear personality all their own and the carbonation is increased to further balance this out as well. The “international bitter units” (IBUs), a unit of measure I’ve mentioned many times increase dramatically from say 25-35 in an EPA to a full 50 or more in an APA (though an extra-special bitter, a version within a version, can run upwards of 50 IBUs). In the case of the Dunham APA introduced here, the IBUs come in at a very ample 60 … which is high for an APA, but I’m not complaining. But truly, this is where the two countries and continents divide: the hops.
But what’s the difference you ask, then, between an APA and the more renowned IPA (India pale ale) … and the American IPA in particular? Good question. The truth is that while there might have once between a clearer distinction, the lines are getting blurry with some people and brewers walking back and forth across them … and making beers of an APA style that taste like an IPA and vice versa. If we were pure, I would say that the APA has slightly lower alcohol, lower IBUs, less and lighter malts, lighter colour (like Dunham’s straw colour here) vs. burnt orange/amber for IPAs, and with cleaner and more refreshing flavour profile and ending. But because both beer styles have a range they fall within, these ranges actually overlap to produce a more and more examples which are indistinguishable.
So how does Dunham rate? The answer is brilliantly … and it is an answer which is consistent with my other experiences with this brewer who consistently makes some of the best ales I’ve tasted. Their Black IPA and Imperial Black IPAs were both exceptionally crafted and among the first beers I reviewed when I started this blog. Interestingly, one of the remarkable features in those molasses coloured ales is one of the tell-tale features in this pale ale as well and that is the gross looking particulate that pours out of the bottom of the bottle. I remembered this well and so poured the beer slowly and incompletely for the first picture above … and, then, to prove my point, finished the pour to take this picture you see here.
The result is what I previously described as looking like “frog eggs” suspended in my beer. I know, my adjectives of frog’s eggs and and “gross” are a bit of hyperbole because while it may accurately describe the aesthetic of this beer, this particulate has no taste or texture, so don’t run screaming from the picture. So what is this particulate, you ask? It’s the residual yeast leftover from the “bottle fermentation” which in French is called sur lies and which translates into English as “on lees.” The “lees” is the sediment left behind after any brewing process as in wine or beer (even steeping tea). Typically this is removed during the racking process once the fermentation is complete (i.e. when the desired alcohol level has been reached); however, some brewers use what is called a secondary fermentation process where some still active yeast (necessary for fermentation) is allowed to continue into the bottle. The yeast continues to feed on the residual sugars until all is spent. The result is higher alcohol, a natural ‘soft’ carbonation … and this residual yeast (proteins) that deposit on the bottom of the bottle once the fermentation is completely over. This method is very common among Quebec brewers, but is done the world over, and produces some exceptional beers of exceptional mouthfeel … but with some aesthetic challenges.
Flip the cap off this beer and you’ll immediately realize what makes this style of beer so incredibly popular. As the tendrils of beer ‘gas’ escape the neck the first thing I smelled was Gewürztraminer — yes, you heard me right, Gewürztraminer, as in the wine made famous in Alsace-Lorraine. No, there are no grapes in this wine, but what I was smelling was the unmistakeable aromas associated with Gewürztraminer: lychee and passion fruit. Those are the fruity “esters,” an organic chemical produced by the acid and alcohol of the beer, and the aromas of the hops. Absolutely gorgeous. Once you get past this initial experience you’re in for a creamy sensation which is a product of the diacetyl(s) (I can’t help but make this into a countable noun, which I know it’s not, but c’est la vie) which is another organic compound that gives things like chardonnay and some beers their unmistakeable ‘creamy’ sensation on the tongue. This completes the chemistry lesson. What I love about the whole mouthfeel of the beer is reinforced by perfect carbonation which is just so easy on the tongue. The carbonation doesn’t get in the way of anything. Indeed, natural carbonation is like taking public transit … slow, steady, not a crazy ride, and just a vehicle to get you from point-A to point-B. Nice.
After an afternoon of hitting some golf balls, taking a sip of this beer was akin to giving my parched mouth a nice massage which left it totally refreshed and clean. The whole experience was accentuated by the clear bitters at the end. If I were a purist (which I’m not — I don’t claim to be a beer judge, that’s for sure), I think the bitters are too high for an APA — but because I personally love these, I have a hard time complaining. However, if you’re an APA enthusiast who generally doesn’t like an American IPA, then this might be too much for you … and it is a clear example of Dunham straddling that overlap between the two styles.
All in all, this is a beer I love a lot already. Truly, while it lost points for the consequential lees, don’t let appearances fool you. This is an awesome pale ale and I am sincerely happy I have 5 more bottles to enjoy this summer. Whoo-hoo!
Stats: APA. 5.5% ABV, 60 IBUs. Dunham, Quebec
Size: 341mL bottle
Colour: Light, golden straw (unfiltered)
Mouth Feel: Medium carbonation, balanced creamy and refreshingly clean
Purchased: Bières du Monde
Pairing Notes: n/a