58 of the Best Pale Ales, Blind-Tasted and Ranked
How We Taste & Test Beers
Composed entirely of Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) judges who have all studied, trained, and been tested on their ability to discern characteristics in beer, our panel is independent and doesn’t include any CB&B editors or staff. The panel tastes all beer blindly—they do not know what brands and beers they are tasting until the tasting is complete.
Our goal is to inform you about the strengths and weaknesses of these beers as well as their relative differences (not everyone has the same taste in beer, so accurate descriptors are more valuable than straight numerical values). The quotes you see in the reviews are compiled from the review panel’s score sheets to give you a well-rounded picture of the beer.
As our reviewers judge, they score based on the standard BJCP components: Aroma (max 12 points), Appearance (max 3 points), Flavor (max 20 points), Mouthfeel (max 5 points), and Overall Impression (max 10 points). We’ve listed these individual component scores, and the bottom-line number is derived from adding then doubling these component scores to produce a rating on a 100-point scale. Note that we round the component scores to the nearest whole number, so the math won’t necessarily add up.
Our judges use the following scale in valuing scores:
95–100 » Extraordinary World-class beers of superlative character and flawless execution
90–94 » Exceptional Distinguished beers with special character, style, and flavor
85–89 » Very good Well-crafted beers with noteworthy flavor and style
80–84 » Good Solid, quality, enjoyable beers
75–79 » Above Average Drinkable and satisfactory beers with minor flaws or style deviations
50–74 » Not recommended
We’d like for you to keep one thing in mind as you read our reviews: Your perception of a beer is more important than that of our review panel or editorial staff. Reading reviews—on the Web, in a magazine, or in a book—is no substitute for trying the beer yourself.
Evil Twin Brewing Hipster Ale (78)
“Perhaps you’ve heard of a beer movement that tributes favorite hipster neighborhoods across the globe. If you feel excluded because you’re hip but your city isn’t, this hip-without-borders pale ale is an homage to you, the global hipster.”
Mad River Brewing Company Steelhead Extra Pale Ale (78)
Malt is definitely the most interesting thing about this beer, which isn't always the best thing said about a pale ale. Hops character is muted and subtle but some notes of grapefruit creep through. Toffee and butter character lead to a finish that’s a little sweet for a pale
EPIC Brewing Company Element 29 Pale Ale (82)
“This hops-forward APA highlights the Amarillo hops’ sweet, ripe citrus aroma and flavor reminiscent of Valencia oranges and tangerine. It has a medium body with a malt character ranging from light crust to mild graham cracker.”
New Holland Brewing Company Paleooza (82)
“Our classic pale ale, with Michigan-grown, Cascade hops. Bright hoppiness and pleasant aromatics are framed with balancing sweetness of pale malts.”
Full Sail Brewing Company English Style Pale Ale (83)
Big malty caramel burnt sugar up front, balanced with a blunt bitter and nice grassy hops flavor. Very British in character and effect. Rich melanoidin finish—overly complex for the style but tasty. Hops bitterness has a hard time contending with the malt. Malt is bready with caramel and strong crystal notes. Lightly bitter finish.
Terrapin Beer Company Rye Pale Ale (83)
A bit more subdued on hops flavor than most APAs, with the hops flavors competing a bit with rye and maybe even caramel malt notes. This pale doesn't make the hops the star of the show; it’s more a bit player behind an intriguing maltiness with bread crust, caramel, and biscuit notes. Earthy and spiced notes of rye add complexity.
Upslope Brewing Company Pale Ale (84)
Sweet and lemony with hints of orange and tropical fruit. A very unique grape-juice-like flavor with some intense gooseberry and tart cherry notes. The malt is just enough to showcase the hops character. Similar mineral profile in the aroma. A mix of citrusy hops and a touch of malt sweetness and perhaps even a perception of sweetness from the hops (maybe tropical fruit) work to balance this one out, both in flavor and finish.
Founders Brewing Company Dry Hopped Pale Ale (84)
Clean malt barely balanced with crisp hops bitterness. Clean fermentation produces light fruit esters and malt is bready and fairly complex for style. Hops are slightly piney and fruity (red apple again). Finishes fresh and inviting—pleasantly mild hops flavor and a clean bitter finish that leans a bit toward the British style.
Oskar Blues Brewery Dale's Pale Ale (84)
Sweet clean hops citrus character with juicy grapefruit and orange complexities, though everything is a bit restrained. Sweet, nutty, and slightly fruity hops flavor balanced with pine and a higher bitterness that helps to mitigate the sweetness.
Mission Brewery El Conquistador (84)
Moderately hoppy with a piney and leafy character—balance tilts hoppy over malty but both are a bit one-dimensional. Clean and light malt flavors eschew caramel or darker malt to leave it bright. Finishes pretty dry—sharp and bitter, ready for another sip. Bitterness lingers with a touch of smoky phenol.
Great Divide Brewing Company DPA (85)
The hops come through with nice earthy and spiced character and moderate bitterness. Smooth round malt flavors, caramel and dark crystal notes with a nice clean finish for an English pale. Mid-level hops bitterness balances well with the malt body. There is a noticeable amount of herbal and floral hops flavor, but they aren't allowed to shine behind the overly British yeast character.
Ska Brewing Company Euphoria Pale Ale (85)
Malt sweetness balances well with the hops. The hops come through more in the end with some bright citrus notes and a little grass-like character as well. Finishes slightly bitter but still clean. Hops flavor are much brighter than the aroma suggested—more juicy, tropical fruit flavors than in the aroma.
Firestone Walker Brewing Company DBA (Double Barrel Ale) (87)
The hops character in this beer is earthy, woody, a bit spicy, and floral, with mild bitterness—more than the nose would suggest. Notes of caramel and toffee come through well with a light body. Some tart notes in mid-palate. Hops flavors clash with the fruity yeast esters, though as it warms these work better together. Bitterness is a little low for the style, allowing the malt to linger a little too long.
Boulevard Brewing Company Pale Ale (87)
Big hops flavor up front. Hops bitterness and malt sweetness are well-balanced, and stone fruit abounds. Malty hit with just a touch of tart. Bitterness is appropriate and well balanced. Low astringency, finish is quick and inviting. Moderate hops flavor and a big ester punch.
Boulder Beer Company Hoopla Pale Ale (87)
A moderate hops bitterness, balanced by a decent malt backbone and slight mineral character. Light on the body and the juicy orange and bitter grapefruit hops character carries through to a dry and crisp finish. Balanced and just slightly bitter but doesn't linger long in the finish.
Alaskan Brewing Company Freeride APA (87)
Earthy, grassy hops flavor with a touch of spicy. Bitterness is here but not pronounced. Finish is as much ester as it is hops. Reasonable malt backing provides medium sweetness against the prominent fruity hops profile. Finishes dry with a nice bitterness. Peach and orange hops flavor is more subdued than the aroma promises. Body is full, but high carbonation lightens body. Sweet malt flavors linger.
Schlafly / The Saint Louis Brewery Pale Ale (88)
This beer definitely leans more toward the malt than the hops. Interesting malt notes— bread crust, graham cracker, and some biscuit. A little thin for style. Hops flavors of citrus and orange are almost absent with just enough bitterness to provide some balance. Tart notes in the mid-palate, plus an interesting mineral note that provides a bit of needed complexity. Crisp and carbonic with a dry finish.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company Pale Ale (88)
Nice up-front hops, balanced wonderfully with a soft malt character. Citrus rind dominates hops flavors with some floral notes. A slight juiciness may be related to the slight caramel note from the malt. Restrained yeast notes provide a subtle fruitiness that works well. Light and carbonic—very drinkable. Definitely hops forward but not out of balance, with a slight lingering bitterness.
Grand Teton Brewing Company Sweetgrass APA (88)
Grassy dank character carries through in the flavor. Unique hops flavors, a bit like pine and passion fruit, give way to a crisp, dry finish. Malt backbone helps support without interfering. Similar spicy and floral hops notes in flavor as indicated by the aroma.
Goose Island Beer Company 312 Urban Pale Ale (88)
Super rich malt character with just enough bitterness to balance. Sweet and sunny with enough hops to keep the rich malt from being cloying. Nicely balanced APA with strong fruity esters. Low-in-the-mix hops offer some floral and bitter notes despite being buried under raw grainy malt. Tastes a bit like they used a decoction mash or a very long boil.
Stone Brewing Company Pale Ale (88)
Rich bread and caramel/burnt sugar malt flavors underpin a slightly woody, resinous, and crisp hops flavor that’s much more assertive than in the aroma. Bitterness hides just underneath the malt richness, giving support without lingering in the finish. Carb and balance are spot on.
Fort Collins Brewery 1020 Pale Ale (89)
A straightforward pale malt bill with strong bitterness and mellow citrus hops notes. Hops flavors tend toward grassy, with a bit of grapefruit accentuating the bitterness. Very light bread flavors, some sweet esters detract from crisp finish.
Uinta Brewing Company WYLD (91)
Perfectly balanced malt and bitterness. The raw hops flavors are a bit over the top but fun. Low caramel notes in the finish keep it interesting and refreshing. Heavy hops flavor, again very resinous, with that fresh-hops-just-dropped-into-the-boil smell. Finishes clean with a very slight lingering bitterness.
Tröegs Brewing Company Pale Ale (91)
Malt sugary sweetness peeking out from behind some intriguing hops flavors. Green onion, tamarind, and fenugreek. This is a weird, well-balanced not-a-typical-APA beer. Fruity floral hops meld smoothly into bitterness. Light-medium body and medium-high carbonation. Malt is fairly simple with some subtle biscuity undertones. Finishes clean.
Flying Dog Brewery Pale Ale (91)
The intense citrus and tropical fruit flavor shine, while the malt does enough to keep it interesting and balanced. Similar flavors as displayed in the aroma. Bitterness is spot on. Juicy and complex hops flavors come through as resiny, dank and a touch musty. Incredibly balanced and finishes clean, making it extremely drinkable.
Southern Tier Brewing Company Live (91)
Hops jump in at the front and are sweet and juicy to the finish. The malt character only stands behind to showcase these hops and does not provide much more for the beer. Wonderful intense sweet orange and lemon hops notes contrast with a perfectly balanced bitterness set against slight malty sweetness. Complex hops flavors are accentuated by the dry finish of the beer, without being too bitter.
Summit Brewing Company Extra Pale Ale (92)
Assertive bitterness up front that mellows with a nice malt breadline. Hops flavor takes a little work to discern behind the bitterness and malt, but floral character remains. The beer finishes and lingers on the tongue with some biscuit malt sweetness with the floral hops notes. Very dry with medium-high carbonation.
Deschutes Brewery Mirror Pond Pale Ale (92)
Medium body for an APA, medium to high carb. Honey character and citrus tartness return in the aftertaste. Reasonable bitterness but could use a bit more hops flavor. Malt is sweet but flat. Alcohol evident. Balance is a bit on the malt sweet side, but the lack of bitter is made up in hops flavor.
Fremont Brewing Universale Pale Ale (92)
A slightly muted pale, with nice malt complexity and interesting hops flavors, but everything is restrained. Ripe, juicy grapefruit and pine hops notes with a bit of musk and dankness. Missing some body, causing the hops bitterness to come off slightly astringent. Completely balanced with the bitterness trailing off immediately.
Three Floyds Brewing Company Alpha King (92)
Grapefruit and citrus hops notes pair well with a subtle malt sweetness. Very balanced with both sweet and bitter flavors shining through. A juicy hops flavor with an intriguingly crisp malt bill that finishes slightly sweet. It may get a little sweet for the style, but the piney and resinous hops flavors balance the fruit notes while the malt backbone supports the hops flavors.”
Samuel Smith Old Brewery Organic Pale Ale (93)
Caramel and toasty malt sweetness with a touch of floral and spiced hops notes. That blend of fruity yeast esters plays off the complex and delicious malt profile. The apple and pear flavors work wonderfully with the bread crust. Lingering bitterness is just a touch harsh
Odell Brewing Company 5 Barrel Pale Ale (93)
Hop-tastic initial blast of flavor races ahead of the malt. Medium-high carbonation accentuates hops impact. Hops are floral and earthy, with some sweet citrus fruit notes as well. Bitterness is well balanced against a medium body of complex malt, with bread crust, biscuits and jam, and light caramel.
SweetWater Brewing Company 420 Extra Pale (93)
Slightly bready malt bill balanced to style by classic West Coast citrusy hops. Spicy, almost Belgian phenolic yeast character with a light wheat tartness, decent floral hops flavor under the spice, pineapple. Peach and cranberry notes. Malt is bready and slightly sweet with a clean finish. Lingering bitterness in finish without harshness.
Bear Republic Brewery Grand-Am (93)
Citrus and pine hops flavors dominate with nearly no malt or yeast character. It leans more towards bitter, both in flavor and finish, than some of the others we’ve tasted. The hops grapefruit sweetness is evened out with a touch of grapefruit bitterness and lemon notes that add depth. The finish is refreshing and dry.
Firestone Walker Brewing Company Pale 31 (94)
The fruity, estery character dominates the flavor. Pilsner malt comes through over time. It’s moderately hoppy and sweet with strong peach, apricot, and strawberry character. First taste is of stone fruit and refreshing light malt toast. Low bitterness and delicate toast work well.
Schlafly / The Saint Louis Brewery Dry Hopped APA (94)
Grapefruit and orange rind with a bit of pine and lemon sits atop a clean fermentation and very little malt backbone. Finish is dry and a touch bitter but doesn't linger. Put together well with nice bright flavors, hops, and malt that play off each other nicely.
AleSmith Brewing Company X Extra Pale Ale (94)
Light malt flavor lends a dry, crisp finish. Strong carbonation really makes the clean and well-defined hops flavor pop out! Assertive hops flavor is spicy with some grassy-citrus notes and a bitterness that lingers just enough. Very light, spritzy body.
Heavy Seas Beer Powder Monkey (95)
A curious and delicious balance of bready maltiness with light toffee and caramel notes and an assertive bread crust flavor. The fruity and floral hops flavors work perfectly with the malt, and just a touch of yeast esters add to the complexity.
New Belgium Brewing Snapshot (95)
Moderate sweet wheat malt profile. A bit of lactic acidity in the front end. Some lemon notes. Very malty with some acidic fruit. High carbonation, finishes dry but with a lingering grainy sweetness.
Victory Brewing Company Headwaters Pale Ale (96)
Full bodied with a sweeter malt finish and hops bitterness to match the body. Hops are mostly piney and resinous with a touch of lemon. Moderate hops flavor—peach, pear, and some cherry, with a proper bitter finish. Initial flavor is much more simple than aromatics suggest—a good surprise. Lovely.
Half Acre Beer Company Daisy Cutter Pale Ale (96)
Very even malt/bitter balance with low bread notes and plenty of grassy and floral hops flavor coming through that wasn't apparent in the nose. Same fruits as nose—peach, slight banana. Strong clean bitter hops bite with a bit of resinous hops character. Malt is not as sweet as expected given the aroma.
Drake's Brewing Company 1500 Pale Ale (97)
Very juicy for a pale ale. The hops are present and showcased but not overpowering. Amazingly clean pale that allows the hops flavor to dominate and shine! Over-ripe citrus flavors, mostly orange, with very nice resiny, piney hops flavors. Finishes slightly dry with a lingering grapefruit sweetness and slight bitterness.
Lagunitas Brewing Company New DogTown (99)
Very juicy and citrusy with lemon, orange, and tangerine notes—the aroma promises, and the flavor over-delivers. The hops fruity sweetness carries through to the dry and clean finish. The complex floral and spice rack pungency in the hops flavor is beautiful and yet quite different from what was suggested in the aroma. Very carbonic and juicy yet dry.
Three Floyds Brewing Company Yum Yum (99)
The juicy hops character carries through the beer from the start to finish with lemon, orange, grapefruit, and an almost bubblegum sweetness. The malt body is bright with a clean, crisp finish. Intense juiciness, with wild candy sweetness and lavors, ranging from citrus, to banana, to a butter rum hard candy and a touch of bitterness to balance the sweetness.”
Three Floyds Brewing Company Zombie Dust (100)
Hops present complex fruit notes with a little more citrus character. The onion notes are there too, but not overpowering and provide depth and contrast. Drinks super clean and malt and hops are in balance. Juicy hops flavors up front, reminiscent of grapefruit and pine, along with tropical fruit notes and an appropriate level of bitterness. Finishes dry and clean.