How to Brew American Pale Ale | Homebrew Challenge

by Steve Thanos | Updated: January 9, 2021

American Pale Ale is closely related to the English Pale Ale. These two beers share the same history, with the American version becoming a separate style nearly forty years ago.

American pale ales are refreshing, pale in color, hoppy, yet with the right amount of malt to make the beer very balanced and extremely drinkable. 

The Pale Ale is Coming!

Anchor Brewing Company’s Liberty Ale was first brewed in 1975. It was and still is a 6% abv beer that commemorated Paul Revere’s midnight ride in 1775. This beer was seen by Michael Jackson as the first modern American ale.

Fritz Maytag, original owner of Anchor, visited breweries in London, Yorkshire, and Burton upon Trent. He gathered research on a robust pale ale across the pond. Maytag used just malt in his version instead of sugar as was usually used in England.

He also used the American hop, Cascade. By 1983, Liberty Ale became a regular beer in Anchor’s rotation. 

Pioneers of the American Craft Beer Movement

Jack McAuliffe of New Albion Brewing Company brewed his New Albion Ale in 1976. This beer was inspired by beers he had tasted in Scotland. Like Liberty Ale, this beer was hopped with Cascade hops. Anyone talking about pale ale in America must include Ken Grossman’s significant contribution to the brewing world.

His Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was first brewed in November 1980 and was first distributed in March of 1981. 

Style Profile for American Pale Ale

Appearance

The color of an American Pale Ale should be straw-like pale golden to a deep amber. Beer should be very clear, unless it is dry hopped. Head should have good retention and be medium large with a white to off-white color.

Aroma

The aroma of moderate to strong American hops. Citrus is usually the case, but does not have to be. Fruity esters can be moderate to not at all.

The maltiness is there to support and balance out the hops. Biscuit, bready, and toasty aromas may be contributed from the malt. Beer should never contain any diacetyl. 

Flavor

Clean malt character which supports the rather high hop flavor. Hop character is often citrusy due to the popular American varieties of hops, but does not have to be. Malt character is generous and usually gives off notes of bread, toast, and biscuit flavors. Caramel, if present at all, should be very low. Beer should never contain any diacetyl.

Mouthfeel

The mouthfeel is smooth with moderate to high carbonation and medium-light to medium body.  

Food Pairing

When it comes to pairing an American Pale Ale with food, the sky’s the limit. Lighter fare such as salads and chicken is a good way to start. A hearty bowl of chili, cheddar cheese, seafood all make good pairings too 

Tips for Brewing your own American Pale Ale

Grain

The grist for an American Pale is usually some sort of American pale malt; usually domestic 2-Row. Crystal malt is generally used and makes up 5 to 10% of the total grist. Usually a color rating of 40L is used. The darker the crystal malt the increased caramel flavors emerge.

Malts such as Munich or Vienna can be used to create more maltiness to the beer. Keep it below 10% of the total grist, otherwise, the grist will resemble too much a British bitter. Biscuit malt can also be used, but keep it at half a pound for a five gallon batch. 

Hops

An American pale ale has a rather high bittering rate. The classic “C hops” Chinook, Cascade, Columbus, and Centennial are usually showcased in American pale ales. Honestly any hop would work here.

Playing around with combinations or isolating just one variety makes for a good beer and a learning process.

Just make sure the aroma and flavor of the hops do not clash when combining hops. A simple 60-minute addition is usually added. Flavoring hops are added 10-15 minutes before the end of the boil. Aroma hops are usually added right before flame out and should be lower alpha acid varieties.

A good baseline of a hop schedule for an American pale ale includes:

1 oz for bittering 60 min

.5 to 1 oz for flavoring 15-20 min

.5 to 1 oz for aroma 1-2 min

.75 to 2 oz dry hopped 2-7 days optional

Yeast

An American yeast strain that is clean, neutral, and well attenuating is probably best for an American pale ale. The most popular yeast strain is the “chico” yeast strain made popular by Sierra Nevada.

White Labs California Ale WLP001, Wyeast American Ale 1056, or dried Safale US-05 are all great stains to consider. 

American Pale Ale the By the Numbers

  • Color Range: 5 – 10 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.045 – 1.160 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.010 – 1.015 FG
  • IBU Range: 30 – 50
  • ABV Range: 4.5 – 6.2%

Martin Keen’s American Pale Ale Recipe

Grain

87%          17 lbs        Maris Otter      

  5 %           1 lb          Amber Malt     

  5 %           1 lb          Crystal 45

  3 %           8 oz         Cara-Pils

Hops

2 oz         Target – Boil 60 min

Yeast

1.0 pkg   London Ale Yeast Wyeast Labs #1028

Mash at 152°F (66°C) for 60 mins

Boil for 60 mins 

Bonus: Citra Pale Ale Recipe

citra-pale-ale

Background

The perfect pale ale recipe is elusive.

Most homebrewers brew this style early on in their careers, but spend years trying to master it.

A great pale ale satisfies the hop heads but is balanced enough for the casual drinker. It’s one of my favorite beers, and one of those beers I always want to have on tap.

Like many recipes, you start the quest towards a homebrewed pale ale by using a commercial version for inspiration. The above recipe is not a bad starting point either.

Do you want it to taste like Dale’s? How about Mirror Pond, or Sierra Nevada, or Alpha King? Maybe you want your pale ale to lean more towards the British side, with more balance from the malt without the complexity of the NEIPA.

I’ve always enjoyed the grapefruit-like citrus flavors from the cascade hops used in Sierra Nevada’s pale ale, as well as the tropical fruit flavors from the citra hops found in their Torpedo IPA.

With that in mind, I created this Citra Pale Ale, named for the citra bittering hop but brewed with both citra and cascade. I love the beer, and others do to. I will continue to make some tweaks to the recipe, but I’ve finally found my house pale ale.

The cascade and citra hops blend beautifully together. There is a bright, fresh hop flavor but no harsh bitterness. The malt profile is simple but provides a solid supporting act for the hops.

Here is the recipe for those interested in trying it. It will never be perfect, but to my palate it is really, really good:

Citra Pale Ale Recipe Details and Instructions

Batch size: 6 gallons
Original Gravity: 1.056
Final Gravity: 1.011
ABV: 5.9%
IBU: 35

Malt

11 lbs. 2-Row (90%)
.75 lbs Crystal 40L (6%)
.5 lbs CaraPils (4%)

Hops

Citra AA% = 12
Cascade AA% = 6

.5 oz Citra (60 min)
.5 oz Citra (15 min)
.5 oz Cascade (15 min)
.5 oz Citra (0 min)
.5 oz Cascade (0 min)
.5 oz Citra (dry hop)
1 oz Cascade (dry hop)

Yeast

WLP001 California Ale yeast with 2 liter yeast starter.

Extract Option:

Replace the 2-Row with 8.25 lbs light liquid malt extract. Add half of the extract in the beginning and half with 15 minutes left in the boil to preserve the lighter color of this beer.

Process

Mash at 154F. Cool to 66F and pitch yeast. Ferment at 68F until fermentation stops, then transfer to secondary and dry hop for 7 days. Carbonate to 2.2 volumes.

Video Transcript: Today I am brewing one of the first beer styles that I ever made? American pale ale. What are you doing here? It’s not tasting time. Hmm…

I’m Martin Keen taking the Homebrew challenge to brew 99 beers in 99 weeks. And I have a special guest. Hello, welcome Lauren. So normally we’ll see you in the tasting. Um, how familiar are you with the whole brewing part?

I’m not familiar at all. So I kind of want to learn the process of what actually goes into making the beers myself.

I heard it that when you watch back these videos, you just fast forward over the whole bit of me making the beer and just watch yourself tasting.

Yeah, I go to the good part, like when I’m on the screen. So…

Let’s make a start with American pale ale, Lauren. Okay. What is this? Yeah, so this is some suspicious powder. Yeah. What do I do with it? Um, dump it in to the water in here. Yep. Okay. And then just give it a rinse around so that we can get in, like put it in. Yeah. Okay.

So what we’re doing here is we’re just balancing the water with some salts. It’s warm, it’s warm, it’s 158 Fahrenheit. So we get the brewing water fairly warm for the mash, the water salts we’ve added simply just to balance out the water.

We added epsum salt, gypsum, and calcium chloride. In addition, we’re gonna need some lactic acid to bring the pH down as well. So if you could kindly add three milliliters of lactic acid.

So I’m about halfway through my Homebrew challenge. Now I’ve done a little bit over 50 beers and I thought it would be a good opportunity to talk about some of our favorites. Right.

So if you’re trying to think, well, which beer style should I brew? There’s a lot to choose from now. Um, so maybe we can give you some guidance about what your next beer should be.

So far. I’d have to say my favorite light one was the one we just did the hazy New England IPA. Um, I liked that one. It’s more on my taste level. Like I liked the kind of hoppiness to it. Um, it wasn’t too overpowering. Um, I liked the haze on it just because that’s different as well. So I think that was definitely my favorite light one. Yeah.

I’ve quite enjoyed the German lagers that we did. Um, and there were a lot of those, but I think my favorite beer so far has been the German Festbier.

So, um, when you think of Oktoberfest, you probably think of Marzen, it’s kind of a dark orange kind of heavy drinking lager. Um, but actually most October fests’ serve Festbier, which is a much lighter version of that. And I’m not sure I’d have tried it and it was delicous.

Yeah, I think I was unfortunate that I didn’t actually get to try that one, but I did hear so much good about it. And so maybe you need to do it again one day.

Yeah, yeah. I’d be happy to do that one again for sure. All right. So let’s, uh, let’s get making some beer. Okay.

I’ll talk a little bit about what’s in this bag of milled grainn in a moment, but let’s get it added in.

Okay. Just the whole thing. Just dump it in. It looks like animal feed. All right. So there’s no actual mashing to it. I thought it was like mash, like mashed potatoes?

Ah, well, it is a good idea to give the mash a stur. That’s a whisk, whisk, not a mash, a whisk. So you just take that.

And it was just making sure there’s no clumps. If there’s, if it’s all clumped up in balls, then it’s not going to be very efficient getting the water through it. Gotcha. Right. Yeah. It looks good. You mashed, I whipped.

Well, I whisk, so what do these numbers mean?

Or this time that I’m here is the temperature in the mash. I’ve got a thermometer here. That’s, that’s measuring that. And then this is the temperature that we want to get it to. So to turn the heat on, we want to heat this up to 152F. Okay. That’s cool.

We mash at 152 Fahrenheit. Okay.

What about dark beers? I’ve got to tell you my favorite dark beer so far has got to be Irish Stout. And that’s one of my favorite styles anyway, but this one, this one was interesting because for the first time I didn’t serve it on nitro. I just serve it on CO2.

Um, and yet I still got exactly what I’d want out of a dry Irish Stout. Very much like a Guinness mouthfeel. Um, absolutely delicious.

I took a great liking to the oatmeal stout. Um, I was super surprised with the taste of it. The how light it tasted, cause not a big fan of dark beers. I think they are too heavy, but that one was just on the top of all the ones that we tried.

You might think of American pale ale as being a less hoppy version of an IPA. But this style actually has its origins from English pale ale.

And whereas English pale ale emphasizes earthy and floral tones, American pale ale focuses more on citrus and fruit.

Now I’m going to build a beer here with an original gravity of 10 54 giving about a 5% beer and the grist for this one is reasonably simple. So I’m going to start with 2 row moat and that’s going to make up 81% of my grist to that, to add a little bit of basketry sweetness, I’m going to add 9% of caramel 20.

I’m also going to add 5% each of victory malt and Cara Pils.

All right, got another one for you. We’ve done a ton of British beers and given our heritage, we should pick a favorite.

My most favorite one was the Irish red ale. That was a pretty beer. Yeah. Um, it looks great. It tasted great. It wasn’t too over powering. It was like a little bit malty, little bit like biscotty and it went down real smooth. So that’s definitely, yeah, that’s definitely my favorite.

Yeah, that was a really nice one. My favorite, um, has been the best bitter. So I generally like best bitters anyway, but let’s just sort of discovered that I really, really like best bitter when it has a little bit of pale chocolate malt added to it, which is something that Ringwoods best has, which is my dad’s favorite beer style.

So I decided to incorporate it in the best better that we did. And it’s only, I think 2% of the ingredients, but it just makes all the difference.

So the mash is done just draining down. Now I’m bringing to a boil Lauren. And when we bring to boil, do you know what goes in next?

Is it hops? It’s hops. It’s hops. Yeah!

So with this bear, we’re going to get an IBU of about 40. So relatively hoppy for this sort of gravity. Uh, but not, not too, too overboard. Um, I’m going to add as my bittering hop, warrior hop 10 minutes from the end, I’m going to repeat a warrior again.

I’m going to add a bit more warrior and along with Amarilla and cascade and then, uh, at flameout, Amarillo and cascade will go back in a third time. All right.

So let’s get the grain basket out. Okay. And add in some hops. Sorry. That was a lot of words. Okay. So on the hops?

We’ve done a lot of beer styles that are not ones you drink every day. Uh, and I think we’ve both tasted beers that we’ve never even heard of before. Right? Yeah. So what’s your favorite best style that you never heard of?

Um, so my favorite one was probably the Australian sparkling ale. Um, not only was that a fun experience to drink out of your fermzilla. Um, it also tasted really good. I remember saying that it was a very summery drink. It was like perfect for being outside and it be hot and it, yeah, that was my favorite.

One. Is that the one where we did the awesome Australian accents? Correct.

Crikey farmzilla?

So what about you? What was the best, all that you never heard of?

Helles Bock turned out to be my favorite beer style, which is particularly interesting because when I tasted it with Brian, I didn’t like it, but that beer aged for a little while.

And I came back to it when it was about two months old and it really developed, and it just goes to show that even if the beer doesn’t come out exactly as you were hoping, it would do initially some of these beers, especially the high gravity ones, with a bit of age really, really come through.

It’s a few hours later. Now the boil was done. I cooled, transferred into this fermentor and, um, needed to put it in my chest freezer, uh, for a few hours just to bring it down to yeast pitching temperature at 68 Fahrenheit. But now we are ready to add the yeast into the fermentor.

We’re in beer. It’s thirsty work.

Now I have one more question for you Lauren. Yeah. So we’ve added in so far water. Okay. Malt. Yup. And hops. Okay. There’s one thing we still need to add to make beer.

Yeast?

Yeast, yeast it is. So what I’ve got here is a starter that I made earlier. This is Wyeast 1332 Northwest ale. This is a yeast that will really accentuate the malty profile and the fruity profile of any beer that you add it to, which is exactly the two things that we want to promote in this beer, given the malt bill and given the hop schedule.

So would you like the honor of, uh, giving the yeast some food, some yeast some food? That means pouring it in the yeast are going eat the sugars. Okay. Sure. In here.

Thank you, Lauren, for brewing with me today. Now you’re going to have to watch the whole video.

You’re right. I do,…. yay!

We’ll give this one a few weeks at 68 Fahrenheit and see how it turns out in the tasting.

So are you excite try a beer that you had a hand in brewing? I am really excited. Yeah. So take a look at, uh, American pale ale. What do you think?

Um, it is very light, golden color, um, which I expected it to be, um, very bubbly. I noticed that while pouring it. Um, yeah, I’ll give it a good amount of carbonation. I like these beers fizzy. Yeah. Uh, the head on it when I first poured it, it was very, it’s a light head on it as well. It didn’t last too long, but it looks great.

Okay. For smell a little bit of a fruity hop to it. Yeah. So that’s the Amarillo, the cascade, um, coming through, I think.

Let’s try. Okay. I’ve been really looking forward to trying this beer. I love the style of American pale ale because it has hoppy freshness to it without being too overboard and too bitter. And it has a little bit of, uh, an English malt character to it. When I think it’s done well, this is all of those things to me. This is exactly what I was looking for.

I have to agree. Um, I like the APA, I think is like the youngest sibling of an IPA. It’s got all the characteristics, but it’s a bit lighter and tasting, um, and not as overpowering. Uh, it’s definitely all in there. It’s really good.

Now, not to toot my own horn, but I think it might be really good because I had a hand in it.

We talked about a lot about our favorite beers in this episode. Um, what’s your least favorite beer so far?

So there haven’t been that many that I didn’t really like, or wasn’t a fan of. Um, but I got to say the highest up there would be the Wee heavy. Um, I just, wasn’t a fan of that style. It was a bit too like sweet and overbearing for me. Kind of reminded me of Brandy.

Yeah. I would say with, wee heavy, give it a chance, like try it again in six months. So it’s, it’s actually underneath the, the wall here, uh, aging. So yeah, it definitely wasn’t good when we tried it.

Yeah, no, I would try it again. Um, a lot you said aging, a lot of people said aging like of get better with time and it didn’t have time to mature, so I’ll try it again. Okay. What about yours least favorite?

Well, it’s familiar. It’s easy. It’s that damn smoke beer. That smoke, but um, I mean, it’s totally my own fault. I went overboard. I put way, way too much smoke malt in, um, for the style and it just became this smoke bomb and completely overpowering.

It’s of all the beers that I’ve done, it’s well, you know, sometimes you, you have a sip of a beer and like, I don’t think I really liked this. And then, you know, you get a bit further down the glass and that’s it. That’s all right. It’s all right. This is the only beer, the smoke beer, is only about I couldn’t finish a single glass of.

Yeah.

This, because there was too much smoke stuff. As I have complained multiple times to him, like I want the, to redo the beer with less smoke, just to see what it should taste like.

I’m going to have a whole one of those for my bubble bath beer. It’s like, I can’t wait.

I am the former President of my homebrew club, Plainfield Ale and Lager Enthusiasts (PALE) in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL. I brew on my BIAB system with my incredibly patient and understanding wife, adorable 9 year old daughter, and 12 year old brew dog.