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Informal Investigation - Asher EPISODE 4, 28th November 2020
Investigation into Pale Ale
00:00:00 00:15:22

Investigation into Pale Ale

Investigation into Pale Ale

You are listening to the Informal investigation podcast

This is the podcast where we investigate, experience, and share interesting finds  

My name is Asher and lets begin

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The informal investigation podcast is for entertainment purposes only. We are not responsible if you mess up.  You should always do your own homework.  If you try anything mentioned on this podcast you are doing so at your own risk.  The views presented on this podcast are solely those of the speakers and do not represent any affiliated or unaffiliated organizations.

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Today we are opening an informal investigation into Pale Ale 

For those of you who have been following this podcast you will remember our first episode in mid October covered pumpkin beer.  If you haven't listened to it stop now! and go listen! It’s not what you expect and it will blow your freakin mind!

Pumpkin beer is a specialty beer and definitely not for everyone.  Even though the one we made was pretty great, I got sick of it after 1 or 2 beers and the rest of it is just sitting in my fridge gathering dust.  Anyone ever wonder why things in the fridge don’t gather dust?  That's for a different time! Pumpkin beer is a novelty beer though and I'm sick of it. 

After coming off of pumpkin beer I needed a super basic beer to clean my pallet and reset my beerometer! Ya, beerometer said first on the internal investigation podcast.

Quick disclaimer! On this podcast we investigate, experience, and share interesting finds!  Interesting being subjective I wanted to warn you I happen to have a special place in my heart for all sorts of brews and ferments.  These topics are likely to have more than their fair share of episodes. 

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The history of pale ale is complex, zig zagging, and still being written.  There are constantly new styles being added to this category. Milk Shake Indian Pale Ales, Sour Indian Pale Ales, White IPAs are just a couple of the newer styles. 

To learn more about Pale Ales I was able to find a book called “Pale Ale” (I know really original) by Terry Foster.

The book goes into detail about the history of pale ales and how to brew them

Before pale ale existed there was just plain old “Ale” in England.  Ale was a very strong beverage that did not include hops.  Sometime after the 15th century when hops were introduced in England they started making ale with hops and this was known as beer.  Hops in addition to their unique flavor have antimicrobial properties.  This allowed brewers to make Ale much weaker (ie less alcohol) and save money on their grain bill.  Ironically, nowadays hops are the most expensive ingredients in beer. 

Eventually the term Ale faded from common use as people started to exclusively enjoy hopped beer.  

The term later re-surfaced to refer to strong beers.

Unfortunately the hydrometer was not used in brewing till the 18th century so it's hard to know exactly what they meant by “strong” beer. 

We will get back to hydrometers in a different episode but in short it measures how much sugar is extracted from the grain and later turned into alcohol.

So where did the Pale get put into Pale Ale.  Like it sounds pale refers to color.  

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Let's get back to our beer basics:

Beer is made by soaking milled barley in warm water to extract the sugars.  This sugar water called wort is then boiled with hops to add additional flavor.  Finally the wort is cooled and yeast are added to ferment the sugars into alcohol. That simple! But not quite…we missed a crucial step that most people don’t think about!

What I didn't tell you is that the barely used to brew beer and all grain alcohol for that matter first needs to go through a process called malting before it even gets to the brewer.  The person who malts the barley is known as a maltster.  Awesome name!

To make Pale Ale you need pale malt that is made from barley

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Let's take a detour down maltster lane so we can really understand what this process entails. 

The process of malting frees up the sugars in the grain that allows us to make beer and other alcoholic beverages.  The final step in malting is roasting the grain.  This stops the malting process and adds extra flavor.  Before the 18th century the final step in malting was roasting the grain over a wood fire.  The heat was difficult to control and the malt would get quite toasty, smokey, or even scorched. The toasty, smokey, scorched malt as you may have guessed was not pale at all. I’m going to leave you hanging and talk a little about malting then we will get to how everything became Pale.

 Malting can be broken down into 3 steps:

  1. Steeping (2days) - This is when water is added to the grain to create the ideal growing environment - This starts the synthesis of enzymes in the Aleurone layer of the barley.
  2. Germinating (3-4days) - The grain starts the growing process and allowing enzymes to break down the complex carbohydrates that we will later be fermenting.
  3. Kilning - Heating the grain to stop the germination process.  This process also gives the roasty flavor in grains 


Now back to the pale!

Things got pale In the 18th century when Coke started to be used to dry the malt making kilning more controllable leading to a much lighter and pale end product.  Ya, so what's coke? Cocaine? Coke-a-cola? That really went through my head for a second.  It turns out it's a coal derivative that is used for fuel.

In 1752 Jorge Hodgson opened a brewery in London and started shipping pale ale to India.  Shipping beer to the indies was an interesting idea.  A Lot of what fueled this was the free ride there.  The actual point of these journeys was more to bring spices and other products back after the ships unloaded the beer.  Hodgson created an ale that was more heavily hopped to help the beer survive the journey.  Remember we said that hops have natural antimicrobial properties. This is where our extra hoppy Indian pale ales came along. 

The 18th century brought on all sorts of changes in England that led to increasing popularity of pale ale.  None of these things seem to be a slam dunk on why pale ale took off.  There were the Neopoloetic wars that raised grain prices and obstructed trade.  There were water profiles from different areas.  The industrial revolution gave people disposable income.  Railroad openings.  Regardless people seemed to like pale ales.  Even Pale lagers in Europe took off at this time.  Maybe this is simply the evolution of the human palate for Pale beer.

It wasn't until the 1970’s that pale ale really took off in the United States however. The biggest difference between english pale ale and American pale is likely the hops.  American pale ales use the more fruity American hops while the English Pales use the more earthy English varieties. The first one was likely liberty ale by anchor brewing to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Paul Revere's ride.  

Yup, the pale ale is coming!

Soon after this one of the most popular and well known American pale ale’s were made - Sierra Nevada pale ale.

Pale American Ale is BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) category 18.  It is subdivided into 18a American blonde Ale and 18b American Pale Ale

18a American Blonde Ale: 

“Easy-drinking, approachable, malt oriented American craft beer, often with interesting fruit, hop, or character malt notes. Well-balanced and clean, is a refreshing pint without aggressive flavors.”

These beers typically taste similar to our classic golden lagers out there(ie-bud or corona).  The difference is Ale yeast is used instead of lager yeast.  I perceive the difference as a fruitier rather than a crisp finish.

18b American Pale Ale:

“A pale, refreshing and hoppy ale, yet with sufficient supporting malt to make the beer balanced and drinkable. The clean hop presence can reflect classic or modern American or New World hop varieties with a wide range of characteristics. An average-strength hop-forward pale American craft beer, generally balanced to be more accessible than modern American IPAs.”

The big difference that I appreciate between American Blonde and American Pale is the hop forwardness and hop bitterness of the American Pale.

Let's get back to me needing to clean my palate and reset my beerometer!

I was shooting for an American Pale Ale...ya, shooting for!  Before I started this brew I had a glass on glass accident and broke my hydrometer(again we will talk about this tool a different time) and I wasn’t in the mood of doing calculations so I just eyeballed this recipe and things didn’t quite turn out as expected! No surprise there!

Here is my recipe:

Victory malt 170g

American 2-row 2500g

Munich malt - 170g

Wheat malt - 115g


Lupo citra 5g 60 min 

Lupo citra 14g 10 min 

Lupo Mosaic 14g 10 min 

Lupo citra 14g 0 min 

Lupo Mosaic 14g 0 min


Yeast us 05  


So let’s do some tasting!  For those of you that wanna see what these beers look like check out the Informal Investigation YouTube channel!

With that we are going to close this investigation. If you enjoyed this podcast please subscribe to be notified about our upcoming episodes.  Also, Check the links in our show notes for the resources discussed in this episode on informalinvestigation.com