If the ignored press releases in my inbox are to be believed, we seem to have reached Peak IPA, at least in the US, and while there are certainly many fine IPAs available nationwide, it can be increasingly difficult to find other styles, whether at a bar or restaurant that is known for their great beer lineup or at your local dive, which nowadays is likely to have at least one local (or not so local) IPA on tap. Indeed, it can seem that the more ‘curated’ selections are nothing but a mix of high-octane IPAs and whatever variety of ‘sour’ is popular this week. Simply finding a well-crafted beer that is neither a high-ABV hop bomb nor something peculiar – lovely as those are when the mood strikes – can be something of a chore.
Given that context, I am cheered by a little-heralded trend (microtrend? Local trend?) that seems to be emerging in my (still new-to-me) surroundings here in Seattle – a good availability of excellent pale ales. I have long been a fan of classic British pale ales like Timothy Taylor Landlord, and I had essentially resigned myself to only getting anything similar on business trips to Europe, or visits back to the east coast; the left coast is certainly much better-known for its experimental IPAs than for its mellow, malt-forward beers.
But having been pleasantly surprised by the quality of local pale ales, I hope to shine a spotlight on a few that don’t receive the digital column inches and Untappd love often reserved for their IPA relations. Starting with the veteran offering, Manny’s Pale Ale, I can happily report that ubiquity does not negate quality – this has become my go-to beer, and it’s always a welcome treat, whether it’s at a Mexican restaurant where the options are Manny’s or Negra Modelo, re-fueling after finishing running 200ish miles with your colleagues or being served by R2-Beer2 (a real thing that happened at work the other week – the perks of tech nerdery are many and varied).
And there are more than a few that are truly outstanding. Special mention must go to Boneyard Bone-A-Fide, Cloudburst Unreliable Narrator and Stoup Fist Bump – a collaboration with Cloudburst, though their standard Mosaic Pale Ale is also excellent. While these do bend toward the hoppier side of the pale ale continuum, their shared feature is a clean, fresh biscuit-y backbone – thoroughly approachable and enjoyable. Boneyard and Cloudburst are more likely better-known for their top-quality IPAs, but these beers are not just scaled-down versions of those; they are well-crafted and deserve to be sought out in their own right.
Other fine examples of Pacific Northwest pale ales I’ve recently enjoyed are Seapine Mosaic Pale Ale, Reuben’s Daily Pale and Lowercase American Pale Ale – all hitting the mark for quality and flavor. And it’s not exclusive to Seattle area; I recently had many cans of Toppling Goliath’s PseudoSue appear in my refrigerator, and it’s just as good as advertised, though I would argue the Boneyard, Cloudburst and Stoup beers are quite easily in the same class. If real or engineered rarity adds to perceived beer quality (it shouldn’t, but it often does), Cloudburst beats Toppling Goliath – at present, they are only available on tap in the immediate area, and they are delicious.
My hope is that if People Who Like Beer actually seek out some of these fabulous pale ales, as well as others available in their local areas, we can drop the ‘session IPA’ nonsense (let’s be honest – good ones are re-branded pale ales, bad ones taste like hop tea) and breweries can properly embrace ‘pale ale’ as a marketable term once more.
That said, if someone invents a made-up style term that makes great ESBs more widely available, I will happily take one for Team Pedantry if it means I can find them more easily.
Consider the challenge issued.