Were you to present a taster tray to a craft-beer newcomer and ask your subject to identify the pale ale in the lineup, he or she could be forgiven for pointing to the Pilsner. The pale in pale ale is a holdover from a time when most British pints were opaque (see How Pale is Pale? below), while today’s pale ales are almost universally a translucent copper hue, somewhere between blonde ale and amber.
The name might not be as apt an appellation as it once was, but pale ale is more relevant than ever. Walk into any pub in Britain and you’re virtually guaranteed a pint of bitter, lovingly pumped up from the cellar with a swan-necked beer engine. And American pale ale lies at the very heart of the Hophead Revolution, offering a blank canvas upon which to slather hops even while retaining enough malt backbone to remind you that it isn’t an IPA.
Pale ale’s appeal lies in its ability to invite endless experimentation while remaining an intimately familiar everyday ale. When your palate can’t take another sour and your liver has had it with imperial stout, pale ale is the old friend you keep coming back to again and again.