Five of the best pale ales05 Jun 2015
Given the amount of anguish and hand-wringing that the term ‘craft beer’ generates, it’s surprising what an easy ride ‘pale ale’ gets. Let’s be blunt: it’s a ludicrously loose category. ‘Pale ale’ is used to describe a huge variety of beers, from the palest gold to the undeniably brown. Some are raging hop infernos, others malty quaffers. Pale, it appears, is a matter of perception - and for some, just being paler than Guinness is enough.
That’s fine by me, though. Styles are a useful guide, but no more. You’ll get no quivering, chin-scratching, ‘but is it to style?’ stuff around here. Anyway, the most interesting thing about pale ale (whose roots in London are very deep) is its recent renaissance, particularly its role in the rise of hops.
The new primacy of hops is re-writing the rules of beer: traditionalists might (understandably) moan that there’s more to beer than the little green bad-boys, but many of those who are new to beer are drawn to it by hops. For many punters, it’s not about styles or the colour of the beer - it’s about which hops you’ve stuck in it. People get excited about Citra and Nelson Sauvin; far fewer gets their knickers in a twist about Maris Otter.
That may change, but for now hops -and their chief conduit, pale ales - are where it's at. Here’s our run-down of five of the best pale ales that are made in London.
The Kernel Pale Ale
It’s hard to overstate how significant this beer is, in its multitudinous forms. Others were there first, particularly outside the capital, but it was The Kernel’s pale beers that really kicked off London’s current beer mania. Some crave Citra, others are suckers for Simcoe; I like Nelson Sauvin with its vinous, slightly off-base gooseberry goodness. It’s a crowd-splitting hop but it gets the thumbs-up here.
Beavertown Neck Oil
This hugely aromatic session IPA was once a more classic British bitter, but its better for the change. It’s one of those beers that really benefits from being drunk fresh; it’s all about the tropical-fruit aroma, and once that goes you’re not left with much. Drunk young, though, and it’s great fun. A beer whose contents live up to its racy canned container.
Five Points Pale Ale
There’s much to admire about Five Points: their commitment to paying their (12) members of staff the London living wage; the serious way they go about brewing beer; the fact that owner Ed was the man behind sophisticated beer bar Mason and Taylor (an experiment that badly needs repeating, btw). And then there’s this, a bitter-but-not-too-bitter, lemon-and-lime, caramel-malt-based delight that I once drank four pints of at The Three Compasses having planned only one. That’s the sign of a good beer.
This is a pale ale in the old London-and-Kent tradition, albeit rather more golden than the likes of Young’s Ordinary. There’s a growing bitterness here that makes this incredibly moreish. It’s a bit of a departure for a brewery whose more well-known beers, like Wandle, pay tribute to the toffee-ish ales of owner Duncan Sambrook’s native West Country.
Fuller’s Chiswick Ale
When people talk about Fuller’s, they might rhapsodise about London Porter and London Pride. They might talk about some of the more expansive beers that John Keeling and co have taken to brewing over the past decade or so - but Chiswick Bitter rarely rates a mention. That’s a shame, because it’s a light, lean classic, where the bitterness only really hits you with the third pint. There’s also that classic Fuller’s yeast character, of course, and some caramel malt too. Very drinkable. Of course.