Some pale ales are not all that pale. Some are pale but don’t look like the pale ales of old. And some ales are pale but aren’t called pale ale.
Consider the below Exhibits A, B and C.
Two are unfiltered American pale ales. Aside from that, they could hardly be more different.
The third is technically an ale that is pale, but it’s not a Pale Ale, it’s a barrel-aged Belgian sour blond.
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So why am I grouping them together in this review? Well, you can learn a lot about a brewery by looking at how they take a classic beer style — say, the good old pale — and put their own twist on it. And each of these beers ends up succeeding, to some degree, because of how they spurn the beaten path.
Aslan Dawn Patrol. This hazy orange unfiltered Pacific ale gives off a soft, pleasant mango-citrus aroma. Poured from a can, some sediment floated in the glass. Those “floaties” were absent when I tried it on draught. Tender hop flavors of lemon juice, mowed grass and (more) mango are sneaky-complex, each note piling on to a light tropical character. Bitterness is low, a mere 18 IBUs. Last year Aslan released Batch 15, a hop-forward India Pale Ale, in sleek black-and-neon-green cans. A few months later Dawn Patrol hit the shelves in black and blue, as a more reserved counterpart. So here the malt base, while not wildly different, comes into focus. On the back end I noted uneven harshness in texture, but overall that doesn’t demolish the subtleties: Rye spice shines through — as it did in the Ginger Rye Ale this brewery nailed early on, though that note is scaled back here. The finish tastes sweet and mildly tangy. C+
Structures Iteration Pale Ale. This (very!) unfiltered pale ale emits a milky shade of off-yellow that lightens to white around the edges and could be mistaken for cloudy pineapple soda. A rush of hop-citrus hits the nose, then on the palate it’s dominated by explosive notes of pineapple-grapefruit that are more sweet than sour, and unreal in balance. South of 5 percent alcohol, it’s easy to glug down if you’re looking for refreshment but rewarding if you’re taking the time to study it. That’s a hallmark of the best beers of this style — even though this might not look like, or taste like, a typical pale ale. Here is a welterweight contender for best everyday beer in town. If only this tiny microbrewery were open every day. A
Wander Sauraha. Upon its release the brewery described this sour barrel-aged Belgian blond as “moderately tart” — an understatement, I think — with flavor notes of “kiwi, white grape must, and fresh lemon zest.” Kiwi, I could see. The other two? Yes, in droves, and along those lines I also get lime-like acidity. This puckering blond ale has been aged in oak barrels for 12 months, with lactobacillus and brett. Those modulations complement the base extremely well, creating one of those sours that’s nuanced enough that it can be enjoyed even by someone like me, who appreciates the style but mostly prefers non-sour beer. Texture is light and dry but complete, and if the bottle didn’t tell me it’s 7.1 percent alcohol, I’d guess it were lower. The pour is a clear orange, with lazy bubbles of carbonation. At $16 a bottle, it’s a beverage for special occasions. Some will see “sour” on the label and pass it by. But if you’re looking to explore a new continent of beer, here’s a possible gateway. B+
In other brews …
— Time for a whirlwind tour of what’s new in Bellingham beer. Aslan’s French India Farmhouse Ale (FIFA) is back; the beer took home the gold medal for hybrid beer at the 2015 North American Beer Awards. This year’s version adds a new hop, Jarrylo. Boundary Bay slashed its growler price to $7.95 for a 64-ounce fill, a permanent change. Chuckanut Brewery, meanwhile, expanded its taps from six to nine. Kulshan Brewing Co. released another lager, a Helles. These past few weeks North Fork Brewery has churned out some lovably crazy stuff: their first saison; another barrel-aged sour or two; and Olympus Mons, a brew barrel-aged with tamarind and lemongrass. I tried my first Stones Throw beer (finally!), a nitro porter at The Local on Railroad Avenue. Up-and-coming Structures Brewing is already bottling a saison, named for State Street. And at Wander Brewing they’ve been pouring a sour cherry beer and a cranberry puncheon, their wonderful rustic ale brewed with berries from southwest Washington.
Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, firstname.lastname@example.org.