The session. Once a month beer bloggers from around the world take five minutes to all discuss a particular topic. This month the topic is “Pale in comparison”. It was suggested by this months host, The Beer Babe. The Brief was to find two different pale ales and talk about them.

I have to admit that last month has been pretty hectic for me and as a result I completely forgot about finding some pale ales for today. Infact it only dawned on me this afternoon that it was June and a Friday. “Ah crap, I forgot to get some beer!” I cursed at myself. Committed for the rest of the day I just had to hope that my local Tesco would come to my salvation when I was finished. When I arrived at the booze aisle I looked up and down for ages looking at the bottles, it is surprising how very few pale ales there are. Several IPA’s, plenty of bitters and golden ales but very few ales which are just billed as pale ales. Infact luckily there were in the entire beer section only two which were labelled pale ale. These were Sierra Nervada’s Pale Ale (5.6%) and McMullen’s Hertford Castle (5%). This must be fate because these are both beers which I have never tried and have been itching to for some time. Also to note, one is English and one is American. It should be interesting to see the difference in what is supposed to be the same style.

First of all Sierra Nervada. I opened the bottle and took a sniff, “uh-oh” I thought, this doesn’t smell good, more like a lager than a pale ale that I would expect. If this tastes like it smells I was not going to enjoy it. Fortunately, it didn’t. A wonderfully floral and hoppy taste which completely contradicts its aroma (insert here all the usual words that are used to describe a hoppy beer, pine, floral, sweet, light, citrus etc.). It was for me, however, not a stand out taste. No flavour really dominated and all became lost in a wash of hoppy beer stereotypes. It had a more bitter after taste that was quite pleasing. For me as well after I had finished the beer it left a film of flavour over the palette which felt slightly oily, still giving that lingering taste of the beer but with the consistency more akin to the oil from tuna fish (I’d like to reiterate, that is the taste of the beer and oily coating of the mouth afterwards, it did not taste of fish, I just can’t think of a better way of describing it). It was also very carbonated, for me a little too fizzy.

The McMullen couldn’t have been any more different. It was a meek beer. To me very little in the way of any sort of taste, slightly bitter but not ever so. It did have a very sweet, caramel after taste which when closely considered did have a resonance of the hops but was only just recognisable. I would say that nearly all of the enjoyment in this beer was in its after taste. The actual taste in the mouth and the feel were unobtrusive and didn’t make any attempt to shake up the taste buds. The beer was much less fizzy than the Sierra Nervada, more to my liking but the beer itself had little going for it. The McMullen is a more refreshing beer though, in the right circumstance, on a hot day perhaps, the Hertford Castle would be a better choice.

It is interesting to see how two beers which are supposed to be from the same style can be so very different, although that was the point of the topic. Sierra Nervada have made a beer which has a flavour which is difficult to pin down because there are so many flavours in it. McMullen have made a beer where all the flavours appear to you after you have finished drinking it. Of the two it is hardly surprising that the American one is very much more the hoppy beer, but it may be perhaps that the English one hasn’t got so much in the way of malty characteristics. I feel that really the term pale ale does have a context and these two beers do give a sort of ball park as to where that is. I couldn’t think of a better or more accurate label for them so it must be what they are. Perhaps pale ale is best used as a term which is used for ll those which fall though the cracks, the not quite IPA’s and the not quite golden ales. Perhaps that is the best thing to say about both of these beers on an individual level as well… not quite.