Things seem to be looking up for pale ales these days.
While I’m not about to declare that we’ve hit “Peak IPA,” there are signs pale ales are emerging from the shadow of their bitter and hoppier sibling, which still enjoys a perch near the top of the craft beer pecking order.
In Alberta, the team at Alley Kat Brewing in Edmonton announced in March it was changing its Full Moon IPA back to a pale ale just a year after re-formulating it with more hops and higher alcohol content. The original Full Moon, as a pale ale, was a great standard-bearer for the style, balancing citric hops and caramel malt, but Alley Kat beefed it up into an IPA at the end of 2014, presumably in response to flagging sales and changing tastes. Returning the beer to a pale ale is a welcome nod not just to customer loyalty but an acknowledgement that not every craft beer must be “big” to be worthy of praise, admiration and most of all, consumption.
I recently returned from judging at the Okanagan Fest of Ale in Penticton, B.C., where I was part of a nine-member panel that chose Persephone Brewing’s pale ale as Best in Show among more than 100 beers and ciders submitted for our consideration. I was pleased to see such a well-made and approachable beer get the nod — particularly after last year, when we gave the honours to Coal Harbour Brewing’s Smoke & Mirrors, a strong ale with smoked and peated malts that’s well-executed and deserving of recognition but definitely not for everyone.
While I was in Penticton, I also had a chance to sample the latest seasonal release from the city’s Cannery Brewing: The Muse & The Golden Promise, a pale ale available in 650 mL bottles throughout B.C. and Alberta and on tap at select establishments. The brewery said it plans to add the beer to its regular line-up sometime in the future.
As the name connotes, the beer is made with Golden Promise barley, a traditional variety whose clean flavour and slight sweetness make it a popular choice for classic English ales — notably Timothy Taylor’s legendary Landlord ale, one of the most decorated beers in Britain.
Balance and drinkability are the twin pillars of a good pale, and The Muse & The Golden Promise has them in adequate quantity. Simcoe hops provide a satisfying, but not assertive, bitterness in the finish that vies for attention with some bread and biscuit malt characteristics. There’s some depth and complexity in the interplay between those traits, with the Simcoe hops giving tropical fruit and mild herbal qualities to the flavour and aroma. I also picked up a slightly unpleasant grain husk aroma lurking in the background, particularly in the first few sips, but it I found it faded after that.
My geeky quibbling aside, I enjoyed this beer. The team at Cannery describes The Muse & The Golden Promise as good beer for pairing with a meal or sharing on a sunny patio with friends, and I’d say it’s a decent choice for either setting.