English Pale Ale is a gold-to-bronze-colored beer at 4.5%–5.5% ABV with a noticeable, but not overpowering, hop bitterness (30–45 IBU). Hop character and aroma are muted and somewhat herbal in nature, reflecting the use of English aroma hops, although other hop varieties may be substituted. It is essentially a bottled beer, and these days is usually filtered and pasteurized. However, some examples from newer craft breweries may be bottle-conditioned, and these will be unpasteurized and contain a yeast sediment.

English pale ale is brewed from two-rowed pale malt, with the traditional, floor-malted Maris Otter being preferred by many brewers. See maris otter (barley). This beer has only a moderate malt flavor, but may have caramel notes, due to the use of a small proportion of crystal malt along with the pale malt, a common practice for British brewers. English pale ale is produced exclusively by top fermentation, and the ale yeast strains suitable for this often produce a variety of esters, which give the beer a fruity character.

Traditionally, English pale ale is hopped with the classic English hop varieties, Goldings and Fuggles. See golding (hop) and fuggle (hop). Golding hops, from the East Kent area, are often held to give the finest flavor and aroma when added late in the kettle boil. However, the use of other hop varieties, such as Styrian Goldings, is not unusual. Yet other varieties may be added at the beginning of the boil, for these hops provide only bitterness in the beer. American varieties are generally precluded, since these tend to have strong aromas which are too floral, citrusy, and spicy for this style of beer. This has not prevented many British brewers from using American varieties, but the resulting beer might then be considered “American Pale Ale.” See american pale ale.

English Pale Ale derives from Burton-on-Trent India pale ales (IPAs) of the 19th century. When these became popular in Britain, brewers from other areas attempted to reproduce them, sometimes with limited success. But as understanding of water chemistry progressed and brewers learn how to make a creditable IPA, they soon were also making a variety of similar beers at varying strengths. These went by a number of names, such as “sparkling ale,” “dinner ale,” and “bitter ale,” as well as “pale ale.”

Early in the 19th century a long-standing British tax on glass was removed, and from then on throughout the century brewers moved to sell more of their beer in bottles, rather than on draught. This trend accelerated with improvements in bottling technology, such as the replacement of corks with screw tops, and with the arrival from America of new techniques for chilling and filtering the beer. It was the larger brewers who led this trend since they already possessed extensive distribution networks. By the early 20th century Bass (who had largely dropped the term “IPA” in favor of “Pale Ale” by 1879) was selling 75% of its home beer trade in bottles. It is not surprising that the British drinking public now associated the term “pale ale” with bottled beer.

But in England bottled beer could never displace the cask-conditioned draught version, and bottled beer reached a maximum of 30% of total consumption by 1939 and held there until the 1960s, when it began a slow decline in popularity. As a result of taxation and changes in popular taste the average strength of English beer also declined, and bitter, in its various forms became the most popular draught pale beer (until lager started to make inroads into the market in the 1970s and later). See bitter. English pale ale in bottle became a specialty product, although most brewers still produced at least one such beer. Today there are only a few bottled pale ales remaining in the British marketplace. Paradoxically, a number of draught beers called “pale ale” are on the market, but these should more properly be regarded as “bitters.”

The famous Bass Ale, once sold in bottles in the US as “IPA,” is still to be found on draught, but is now in decline in its home country. Bass itself no longer exists as a brewer; Interbrew UK, a branch of Anheuser-Busch InBev, now owns the brand. In contrast, Samuel Smith of Tadcaster in Yorkshire, a family company that has remained independent since 1847, brews an excellent English pale ale, which has found a good market in the US since around 1980. Another example is Worthington White Shield, with a long pedigree going back to the early Burton IPAs. See worthington brewery. It remained a bottle-conditioned beer and was brewed in Burton up until the 1980s, when it was moved to other sites in the country by Bass. Its production ceased for a while in 1998. It is now being brewed again at the White Shield Brewery in Burton, part of the National Brewery Centre. But, ironically, the brand is owned by Coors.

See also india pale ale and pale ale.