BELL’S PALE ALE

NOTES: Bottle @ McGeady’s in Monroe, MI

STYLE: Pale Ale

ABV: 5%

APPEARANCE: Pale, clear gold

HEAD: Frothy, bright white head that fades in due time

LACING: Decent…nice retention, but spotty

NOSE: Crisp and clean pale malt bill with a faint, lemony hop profile and a whiff of pepper. The nose is challenging…not nearly as robust as I would expect from a Bell’s brew.

TASTE: A nice amount of pale malt sweetness up front and a hint of caramel. The hops have a fairly one-dimensional lemon flavor that is refreshing if a bit dull. Could use a bigger and more complex hop profile. The finish is fairly clean with just a faint trace of bitterness. It’s a tasty brew, but has none of the complexity you expect from an ale factory as lauded as Bell’s.

MOUTHFEEL: Medium-bodied with fair carbonation and a slightly astringent finish.

DRINKABILITY: Like a lot of breweries, Bell’s seems to put more effort into their higher gravity fare (Two-Hearted, Expedition, Kalamazoo Stout) than their standard offerings. The Pale Ale isn’t bad, but you can tell Bell’s heart wasn’t in it. This is a “pay the bills” brew as Doc would say. Drinkable and refreshing, but ultimately forgettable. To be fair, my fellow Aleheads and I completely ransacked a keg of Two-Hearted after I drank the bottle of Pale Ale and the latter suffered in comparison.

RATING: 2.5 Hop

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4 comments

  1. Commander · · Reply

    Barley:

    With all due respect….

    actually fuck that.

    As I probably said at the time you were consuming it, I could not disagree more with your ill-considered assessment of Bell’s Pale Ale. Yes: it does not stack up well against the Two Hearted when you drink them back to back. But few beers would. It goes without saying that the Two Hearted has a very strong and distinctive hoppy flavor. In comparison, I agree, Bell’s Pale is not memorable.

    But I do think that it is a very strong beer when standing on its own. The slightly malty, slightly citrusy flavor is unusual, and unusually good, especially relative to other pale ales. After all, not all occasions call for a 7% super-hoppy IPA. (OK, I don’t really believe that, but go with me here.) Bell’s Pale is much closer to what you’ve termed a “session beer.” In fact, if you ever decide to put away a 6-pack of a Bell’s beer in a sitting — not that you would, of course — I would vote for the Pale Ale.

    I also think you’ve missed the mark on some of the technical attributes of the Bell’s Pale. Mine usually end up with a lasting head that becomes almost chewy when it settles. And, I think it deserves 3 hops based on lacing alone!

    Again, I would not recommend sampling this one back to back with other Bell’s offerings, or any IPA or IPA-variant for that matter. But if you have a couple of them I think you may reconsider the incongruously low rating you’ve given to the Bell’s Pale Ale.

    Here’s to me,
    Commander

  2. Like I always say, the highly subjective Ratings-system is extremely flawed and I would caution against focusing too much on the “final score” and instead see if the description sounds like a beer you would or would not like. If you think it’s a good beer, then it’s a good beer!

    Now with the pleasantries out of the way, my rebuttal:

    1. I’ve had a number of Bell’s Pale Ales in my day…both on tap and in bottles. And the head is almost always as I described it. Frothy, white, and fairly long-lasting, but it DOES fade away. I’ve never had it last to the end of the drink and certainly not in the “chewy” fashion you describe. Perhaps you’ve found the finest bottle of Bell’s Pale Ale ever made.

    2. While I joke in the Tasting Note about comparing the Pale Ale to the Two-Hearted, I’m cognizant of the fact that there’s a massive difference between the two brews. The truth is, I think the Pale Ale even pales in comparison (pardon the pun) to Bell’s other standard offerings like the Best Brown, Oracle…even the rather bland Third Coast. It’s a pretty weak offering from an exceptional brewery.

    3. I don’t put much stock in on-line rankings, but it’s worth a glance at BeerAdvocate to note that the Pale Ale has a middling B rating from the general public and a very poor C- rating from the site founders. I also checked some of the reviews and while a few of them mention good lacing and head retention, most of them are in agreement with my Tasting Note.

    There are beers I love that most people hate and vice versa. I didn’t hate the Bell’s Pale Ale at all. But you really can’t judge beer in a vacuum and knowing what the brewery is capable of, the beer disappointed me. I’m glad you enjoy it and I hope you keep buying it and supporting a wonderful ale factory.

    Me? If I need an american Pale Ale, I’d rather have a Great Divide Fresh Hop, Founder’s Harvest, Dale’s Pale Ale, Terrapin Rye, or the ever-ubiquitous Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

  3. Commander · · Reply

    I hear you on the rating system, and I of course agree that many aspects of tasting are subjective. But I’m pretty much horrified that you gave 3 hops to the Oberon (do you even like wheat beer?) and 2-1/2 to the Bell’s Pale.

    More research may be warranted. A few of the BeerAdvocate reviews mention how fragile a beer it is (which I concede is a negative), apparently because of the high proportion of pale malts used (?), and that it gets significantly less carbonated the longer it sits in the bottle. When I get home I’ll see if I can track the batch number and determine how fresh it is.

    I wouldn’t be defending it, except I think that for a mild-tasting pale ale, it has a lot of subtlety and is really tasty.

    No argument with you on the smell though.

    Here’s to me,
    Commander

  4. I actually much prefer pale ales to wheat beers, but I “try” to rate beers within the style (though I often fail). For a wheat beer, the Oberon is quite good. For an American pale ale, the Bell’s Pale Ale isn’t great. We’d be much better off doing a rating within the style and then an overall rating like RateBeer.com, but we’re far too lazy for that.

    I try to follow Roger Ebert’s example. He wouldn’t rate a summer rom-com the same way he would rate a World War II epic because they’re such different genres. By limiting ourselves to a very basic 4-Hop system, we leave way too much room for interpretation.

    Regardless, I trust your beer instincts and will revisit the Bell’s very soon to see if it’s better than I remember. I have a tendency to write these Tasting Notes after the fact and, like most Aleheads, my memory is a bit spotty.

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