Brother Barley was in Colorado over the weekend…taking in the gorgeous, Rocky Mountain scenery…skiing a bit…getting out of breath from walking up a flight of stairs thanks to the altitude…talking in the third person…and drinking lots and lots of Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale.
For more details about the famous Oskar Blues Brewery, check out my earlier post on their delicious Old Chub Scotch Ale. As far as I’m concerned, Oskar Blues falls in that rarified category we Aleheads call the “no-question” breweries. As in, “there is no question that I will try any offering this brewery produces.” Everything they make is delicious and that absolutely includes their flagship and most accessible offering, the Dale’s Pale Ale.
Pale Ales are easily the most ubiquitous of craft-brewed beers.* What defines a Pale Ale? Two things…first, it has to be pale. Or at least paler than the porters and milds that were so common at the time the Pale Ale originated. And second, it has to be top-fermented. That’s pretty much a given since Ales are always top-fermented. In other words, to be a Pale Ale, a beer has to be Pale and an Ale. I know. It’s very confusing. Sit down for a second and catch your breath.
*Be careful not to confuse Pale Ales with their bastard cousins, Pale Lagers. While there are some delicious Pale Lagers out there, including a number of excellent Pilseners and Helles beers, the American market is dominated by Pale Lagers from AB, Miller, and Coors. Those companies have ruined the good name of Pale Lager for all eternity.
Pale Ales have been around for three centuries and the term was originally used to describe beer brewed with coke-dried malt (the coal-produced “coke”, not the cola or the drug of choice for 80’s NBA players). These early Pale Ales were noticeably hoppier and lighter bodied than the porters and milds that were so in vogue at British pubs. Because of their more assertive hop profile, Pale Ales were referred to by British drinkers as “bitters”. Their refreshing, light-bodied flavor soon usurped the popularity of milds and “bitters” became the ale of choice for the British working class.
The term Pale Ale encompasses a huge variety of beers…many of which really aren’t pale at all. There are American Pale Ales like Sierra Nevada, India Pale Ales like Bass, Biere de Gardes like the delicious Trois Monts, Irish Reds like Smithwicks…plus Amber Ales, Strong Ales, Scotch Ales, Barleywines, Tripels…even Orval, a highly-regarded Trappist beer (and, incidentally, Brother Barley’s favorite brew), is considered a variation of Pale Ale. The sky’s the limit when it comes to brewing Pale Ale. As long as it’s Pale and Ale, the designation works.
Oskar Blues Dale’s Pale Ale is typical of the American Pale Ale style. Dominated by a strong hop profile, it’s a highly drinkable, medium-bodied beer that is as refreshing after a day of skiing as it would be on a hot, summer’s day at the beach.
The Dale’s pours with a deep copper color and a fluffy, off-white, long-lasting head that leaves fairly strong lacing for a medium-bodied beer. The nose is all hops…Oskar Blues adds the Centennial varietal to the wort after boiling and the aroma is strong, citrusy and woodsy. At 65 IBUs, this is an aggressively hopped beer.
The aroma does not hint at the well-balanced flavor underneath. It’s clearly a hoppy, bitter beer when it hits the tongue, but the malt profile is much more pronounced than the nose implies and there is a strong, sweet malt backbone followed by a clean, refreshing finish. At 6.5% ABV, there is some alcohol present, but it doesn’t impact the delicate and impressive balance of this big, canned brew.
It’s slightly too strong to be a session beer, but I would consider it one anyway. After pouring one for a tasting note, I continued drinking them all weekend out of a can. There’s not much better than a Dale’s out of the can and they disappear remarkably fast. Two sips in and I’d realize I had almost drained the whole thing. Oh well…that’s why we have 12-packs. I’ll give the Dale’s 3.5 Hops for elevating an ubiquitous style and showing the world that a well-made, canned Pale Ale can be a remarkable thing.