The Beer Reviews: Pale Ale Invasion

Mark Chipperfield

Remember when Australia was a chardonnay country? Then New Zealand sauvignon blanc arrived and everything changed – forever.

Something very similar is happening in the world of beer. Lager, for so long the undisputed tipple of choice across Australia, is being seriously challenged by pale ale – a style which has already conquered the USA.

Ballsy, aromatic and full of personality these pale ales challenge and reward the beer drinker in a way that no commercial lager ever could.

For many years Little Creatures and James Squire were the only Aussie flag carriers for this style of hop-driven beer. How things have changed. Today, the brewing landscape is dominated by American pale ales and their English cousin, India Pale Ale (IPA) – brewed with extra hops and alcohol to survive the long sea voyage to India.

Think I’m exaggerating? Then consider this, at the recent Sydney Royal Beer Competition pale ales won both the Champion Draught Beer (Alpha Pale Ale) and Champion Bottled Beer (Redoak IPA) categories. The only thing holding back the pale ale revolution is the inability of most bar staff to pour them properly. But if you are still pale ale virgin, I suggest you begin your voyage of discovery with one of the following:

1. Fat Yak, 4.7%alc/vol
Often called Alpha Pale Ale’s younger brother, Fat Yak is designed for mass-market appeal and doesn’t disappoint. Expect a big, citrusy bouquet and a clean tasting, aromatic American-style pale ale. Another triumph from Matilda Bay.

2. James Squire IPA, 5.6%alc/vol
A big, no-nonsense pale ale with a lovely reddish colour, James Squire IPA is made with English Fuggles hops and is a fantastic introduction to the style. This beer is big on alcohol and flavour, but with a whiff of bitterness.

3. Little Creatures, 5.2%alc/vol
The original and, for many its fans, still the best, Little Creatures is definitely at the floral end of the spectrum. Aromatic without being sweet, this has bags of citrusy fruit flavours and lovely clean, fresh palate.

4. Redoak IPA 6.5%alc/vol
Category winner at last year’s World Beer Awards, this IPA is like everything Redoak produces – totally inspired. Brewed in the English tradition, Redoak IPA has plenty of fruit aroma and a caramel malty flavour. It’ll put hair on your chest.

5. Vale Ale, 4.5%alc/vol
A newcomer from the McLaren Vale in South Australia, this lighter style should please those who are just starting out on their pale ale journey. Three hop varieties are used to produce this distinctively lean beer with only the slightest hint of bitterness. A lovely drink, in winter or summer.

Discovered a great Aussie pale ale lately?