My Obsession with Pale Ales

I love American-style pale ales and have for many years. I was reminded of this last night when the whole family was out for dinner at one of our favorite Tuesday night places, and I was talking with the manager about “old school” favorites. Yep, I too once drank Wiedemann’s and MGD. In college, Wiedemann’s was special mainly due to the price, and a party with an MGD keg was practically a high-class event.

My mind was changed, however, by Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Our first “encounter” was at a party in my freshman dorm. I’d never had a craft beer before, and the flavor stuck with me. After that night, I’d find myself drifting toward SNPA whenever possible. True, I didn’t always seek out Sierra Nevada, but when it was available, it’s what I was fond of drinking. Very fond. I didn’t realize it yet, but SNPA had surreptitiously become my measuring standard—the beer by which all other beers I consumed were gauged.

It wasn’t until after college that I really understood what a craft beer was. By then, I’d managed to visit a brewpub or two around Palo Alto, CA, where I discovered the availability of awesome food—and even more awesome beer. It was like bells went off. I started understanding that beer was something you could enjoy on its own. You didn’t have to be at a party, or eating dinner, or having some kind of occasion. You could, quite simply, just go sit down and have a beer. And when I did that—drink beer for beer’s sake—I chose Sierra Nevada. At this point, I had a decent job with decent pay, and I no longer had to sacrifice flavor for budget. SNPA just tasted good, darnit.

Fast forward a decade. In 2005, we opted to move from California to Texas. While we were looking for houses, I challenged our realtor (and my wife) with a requirement: We had to live in a city where they could sell beer. (Sounds crazy, but Texas is full of crazy liquor laws.) After much searching, we finally settled in Southlake, and I thought all was good… until I realized that grocery stores here could not legally sell my favorite beer. SNPA was considered an ale (of course!), but in Texas-beer-law-speak, an ale just means malt beverages with greater than 5% ABV. (Note: Even lagers have to be labeled “ale” somewhere if they are over 5% ABV. Like I said, crazy.) The stores already sold wine so this made no sense to me (or anyone, really). After some online research and an exchange of email with the TABC, I began to understand that ales were out for the time being. I could get my SNPA in other nearby cities, but it now was a special treat.

While I’d already been brewing as a hobby for a few years, it became a somewhat urgent calling.  I realized that if I wanted a locally obtained pale ale, I had to brew it myself.  And I had a lofty goal: to brew a pale ale that was I felt was better than my precious SNPA. It took me a good year or so before I got there, but I believe I finally did. TreeStrike’s Easy Pale Ale is a fine beer.

I’m happy to say that in 2008 the city of Southlake voted to change its beer laws, and we now have SNPA in most stores. You might think that the ready availability of many fabulous craft beers would cause my tastes to evolve, but no—pale ale, in general, is still my favorite beer style. And my own pale ale is the one I most enjoy brewing. Of course, I enjoy all the beers that I brew, but my pale ale is special. I’ll let you know when I’ve got it on tap in the garage, so you can try it, too.

Posted on by Matthew Close in Brewing, Craft Beer, DFW, Family

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