Here Are The Best American Pale Ales

If you haven’t tasted a Flying Dog Doggie Style Classic Pale Ale, you’re missing out on a “fresh, balanced and lively” drink that’s “almost Pilsner-like,” says a panel of beer experts in the New York Times. The Flying Dog took top honors in a taste test of 20 American pale ales, followed by Long Trail, Stoudts, Sly Fox, and Otter Creek. If you can’t remember these smaller labels this weekend on your way to the cookout, you can always stick with Sam Adams pale ale, which placed seventh.

The paper says that although pale ale is of British origin, it’s an area where American brewers have excelled in the past 35 years.

American brewers seem to have this style down cold, although we found more than a few variations on the theme. Some brews emphasized maltier flavors, while in others the hops were more pronounced. A few even seemed surprisingly spicy. In this, the American pale ales were of a piece with their British forebears, which can also range widely within the genre.

What all these beers had in common, however, was balance and harmony. You could drink them over a long afternoon in the sun, whether at a ballgame, a barbecue or the beach, and still feel refreshed and energetic. The alcohol content is fairly mild, around 5.5 percent, only occasionally going above 6.0. In short, as Kevin and Matthew put it, they were “highly sessionable.” [You can drink more than one in a several-hour session without becoming drunk, thanks to the lower alcohol content.]

“Sampling American Pale Ales” [New York Times]

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  1. ColHapablap says:

    What, no Sierra Nevada? I’m no beer fanatic, but that’s one of my favorites.

    And if you’re looking for a really fun July 4th, try some Dogfish Head 120 minute IPA.

    • leprechaunshawn says:

      Is Sierra Nevada “that good” or is it just widely distributed? I’m a plain old boring Miller Lite drinker (and the occasional Spotted Cow) who lives in Miller country but I’ve heard of Sierra Nevada.

      • Gish says:

        For me Sierra Nevada was one of my formative pale ales due to its common presence in my local bars and restaurants. While it is not one of my top five or so, it is always a good go-to brew when I have limited options.

      • ColHapablap says:

        Pale ales and IPAs tend to be more bitter, in my taste, so they may not be the best way to make the jump from Miller to real beers. :) Start off with Yuengling, Newcastle, Sam Adams, etc. to get into beers that have more taste, then test the pale ale waters.

      • ihatephonecompanies says:

        The Sierra Nevada is a solid pale ale, but I think it benefits from being more widely distributed than most. No question, it’s a solid brew, but you’ll find just as good being made in just about any state in the US.

      • ipsedixit says:

        If you’re drinking Spotted Cow, give New Glarus’ Moon Man a try. It’s a pale ale, but extremely mild. It’s a nice intro to the hoppiness that you get with pale ales and IPAs, without going too far.

    • banndndc says:

      Sierra Nevada is better distributed but it’s also gotten a little old.

      the Stoudt’s (somewhat available in the mid-atlantic) and the Sly Fox (only available in the philly suburbs) especially are a lot smoother and less bitter than most IPAs. the lagunitas and wolaver (both semi-nationally available) as well, though not as much.

    • Capta76 says:

      Always a huge Sierra Nevada fan, but their Torpedo Ale is my current (readily available) fave

    • Powerlurker says:

      Ick. I love the 90 minute IPA, but the 120 minute is just way too much. My dad and I once split a bottle and couldn’t get beyond two sips each. It’s way too syrupy and cloyingly sweet.

  2. leprechaunshawn says:

    Hey Stiffler, how’s the Pale Ale?

  3. GrantGannon says:

    +1 for Doggie Style. That’s good drank.

  4. epb says:

    I highly agree with their choice of Flying Dog’s Doggie Style. I tried some last week and it’s pretty much everything you want a Pale Ale to be.

  5. aja175 says:

    Dogfish head FTW. Sierra Nevada is very good too. Fl

    • EdK says:

      I’m a huge fan of Dogfish (60 Minute is my everyday brew), but the Stoudt’s APA is far better than Shelter.

  6. NarcolepticGirl says:

    I have never had a beer. They smell like a field and to me that doesn’t seem tasty.
    Well, actually, two weeks ago I had my first ‘cider’ but I’m told “that doesn’t count”

    I wish I liked beer because it’s so much easier. But I imagine it would fill me up and It would take so many to get me buzzed.

    I’ll stick with my 100 proof vodka.

    • ThaKoolAidKid says:

      I got some Zimas with your name on ‘em, babe.

    • Hank Scorpio says:

      Good beer is about so much more than getting a buzz. If that’s what you’re interested in, great, but some people want to drink something with actual flavor.

      • NarcolepticGirl says:

        I drink to get drunk.
        I also drink tasty drinks to do so.
        I guess I just don’t find beer to be tasty.

    • sth9669 says:

      Why not start off a with the lighter end of the scale? Try a Leinenkugel Summer Shandy, it’s beer mixed with Lemonade and it’s actually really refreshing!

      http://leinie.com/summer_shandy.html

    • zandar says:

      It’s not odd at all to be a grownup and not like beer- I’ve known many people who don’t. Not that I think you think you are odd.

      I have known a few people to change their minds, though. One sure fire way is to be stuck doing work outside on an extremely hot day and be handed an ice cold Belgian white at the end of the day. I converted two people instantly when I did that.

    • Fidget says:

      I got into beer slowly, through snakebites (half cider, half dark (?) beer, sometimes a shot of something I don’t remember). I’m an IPA slut now, tastes amazing but I had to get used to it to appreciate it. Any other mixed-beer drinks I’m missing here?

    • Smashville says:

      Cider doesn’t count. The brewing process is not the same and the ingredients are not the same.

  7. Angus99 says:

    Kansas City’s Boulevard Pale Ale is also excellent, if you come visit us out here on the plains. All of the Boulevard beers are pretty tasty, actually.

    • umbriago says:

      Voted up.

      Though to me the whole idea of making beer an object of connoisseurs, rating them and judging them on their relative merits, still seems enormously silly.

      Good beer? Bad beer? I know it when I taste it.

    • Gish says:

      If only they would make their Irish Red Ale a year round offering.

    • zandar says:

      missourian who can vouch for these words. Just had a boulevard ale two nights ago.

      That said, Schlafly’s pale ale from just down I70 in St. Louis is also pretty tasty.

  8. AlexTNOA says:
    • Spaceman Bill Leah says:

      Mmmmm, will be getting a growler from there this weekend.

      • AlexTNOA says:

        I have a kegerator full of Gossamer waiting for me at home. Draft beer in your living room after a long day’s work should be enumerated in the constitution as an unalienable right.

    • Hank Scorpio says:

      Tried their Daisy Cutter last week for the first time. Mmmmm, mmm!

  9. Spaceman Bill Leah says:

    I am currently in love with Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch, another American style IPA.

    You know you married the right man when you tell him you had a bad day and he comes home from work with a pint of ice cream, some cake and a sixer of Raging Bitch.

    • zmnatz says:

      Same here. This is currently my favorite beer. Must find myself some more. Should be easy considering I live near the brewery.

      • Darren W. says:

        How near? Starting at the brewery, the next closest places I think you can pick it up are AKA Friscos, followed by Crestwood Liquors.

  10. Brunette Bookworm says:

    Flying Dog is good. If you like pale ales and want an IPA I recommend Mad Hatter as a good one. Also, I’m always partial to anything from Three Floyds as it’s local and I’ve been drinking their beer since they were just distributed around the area.

  11. DragonflyLotus says:

    “Sessionable.” I can’t wait to use that word the next time I’m at the local tavern and hear a tourist complain about 3.2 Oklahoma beer.

  12. Eels says:

    Woo Long Trail!

    Pale Ale is the one style of beer I am just not fond of. Well, that and Budweiser.

  13. LexLuber says:

    LOVE Flying Dog. I went on a tour of the brewery last year, and it was great.

  14. cmecha says:

    used to go to flying dog every sat. $5 all you can drink from 12-5 and you get a free pint glass. also i have to say their in heat wheat is awesome but tastes much better out of the tap.

  15. DAK says:

    Any list that doesn’t include Sierra Nevada in the top 3 is not to be taken seriously. They’ve been the gold standard for a long time, and deservedly so.

    • Powerlurker says:

      At this point Sierra Nevada has been eclipsed by newer and more interesting beers. They mention as much in the article.

      • DAK says:

        If the criteria for a beer is that it’s “interesting”, that’s part of the problem. If I made a beer out of gravy, it would be interesting, but I doubt that it would be very good.

        By the same logic, whatever is on the list now won’t be interesting in 2-3 years, so why bother even giving it a second look?

        • Powerlurker says:

          Since it appears that you didn’t read the article, I’ll post the quote here: “Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, where the American pale ale style arguably all began, did not finish in our top 10. We liked it, and I’m always happy to see it at a bar. But it was nudged off the list by others that seemed just a touch more complex and interesting.”

          • DAK says:

            I’ll give this one more try before I let you work it out with a translator.

            The only criteria listed for not ranking SN higher is that other beers were more “complex” or “interesting”. Neither of those are sensible criteria, because they don’t necessarily have anything to do with whether a beer tastes good or meets a certain level of quality.

            • Powerlurker says:

              Then I’m guessing you have a meter or analytical device that can quantify these factors for you? It appears that the authors felt that the beers they listed tasted better and were thus of better quality.

    • Egat says:

      Any list that claims to be talking about the best American beer and has only one beer west of the Rockies (and from CA at that…) is a crock.

    • lukesdad says:

      To be honest, while I like Sierra Nevada just fine, there are waaaaay better pale ales out there. On this list I’ve only had Dale’s and Lagunitas, but I’d pick either of them over S.N. However — if you want to talk about Hefeweizens, Sierra Nevada’s Kellerweis is about the best example I’ve had from a brewery outside of Germany.

  16. montusama says:

    Thank you consumerist for posting about beer! I’m a beer connoisseur, self proclaim but still.

  17. frank64 says:

    The biggie for me is fresh, like if it was brewed in a month or less. Most of us who have tried different beers have not had them fresh. Sierra Nevada in the east is hard to get fresh, I had it once on tap it was most delicious. Long Trail Ale is one of my favorites and they actually put a real brewed by date on the beer, so it is easy to know if it is fresh or not. Sierra Nevada puts a date code on it, but it is not as helpful. I recently had Harpoon IPA on tap and it was great too, I had it in bottles before and it was just OK.

    I think Sam Adams use by date is 6 months, which to me is won’t taste the best, but if I find one dated 5 months out I am all set. Many beers don’t date or put a code on that is not easy to decipher. Some of the beers you have had that taste like crap could be great if you just get it fresh. The wholesale system we have also makes it harder.

  18. Tim in Wyoming says:

    No love for New Belgium? I have to hull cases upon cases when I drive to Ohio and visit family and friends.

    • Silverhawk says:

      I agree, but it might be because Mighty Arrow Pale is a seasonal and not in their regular lineup like the other Pales reviewed.

    • JulesNoctambule says:

      I’m so glad they started distributing in my area. Fantastic beers!

  19. Stonee says:

    Living not too far from Chico, CA I’ve had fresh Sierra Nevada for a long time, loved it long before Budweiser bought them out. Recently found a couple I like even better from CA from Bear Republic. They make 2 really good ones: Hopp Rod and Racer 5, dang good stuff right there.

    • Silverhawk says:

      You might want to double check that. A-B did attempt to buy Sierra Nevada back in the ’90s, but they are still independent & privately held.

    • DAK says:

      A-B tried to buy them, failed, and tried to start a competing “microbrew” that failed pretty badly. The name eludes me at the moment, but I think it was mid to late 90′s, right around the time I graduated.

  20. It'sRexManningDay! says:

    Oh fetus…it’s going to be a long, dry summer.

  21. Smashville says:

    False. Yazoo is the best. Hands down.

  22. RxDude says:

    Not a pale ale fan – I generally prefer darker beers. I do make a tasty cream ale, though. There’s a 10 gallon batch in my basement that might just be ready to bottle this weekend.

  23. Powerlurker says:

    Down here in Texas, my personal favorite is the St. Arnold Brewery’s Elissa IPA.

  24. NotEd says:

    Ah, Two Brothers made the list! Had their Pale Ale at the brewery a few weeks ago and was pretty pleased.
    Of course being a relocated Marylander I’m pretty happy that Flying Dog made #1.

  25. Silverhawk says:

    Nice to see some of my favorites like Flying Dog & Oskar Blues make the list, but I think they overlooked some very worthy & more widely available beers from midwestern & western breweries. Hello, Boulevard? And Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is still a worthy pale ale, it practically set the standard for the American Pale Ale style.

  26. bonzombiekitty says:

    Flying Dog and Otter Creek? Really? I’ve been underwhelmed by them. Stoudts is good, but personally my fav american pale ale is Yards Philadelphia Pale Ale.

  27. JulesNoctambule says:

    Lately, I’ve become very fond of Mother Earth Brewing’s Weeping Willow Wit for a lighter-flavour beer. It’s so popular among our friends that it’s almost the official neighbourhood beer this summer — everyone who drinks beer seems to have some on hand.

  28. notfamous says:

    Lagunitas.

  29. lukesdad says:

    Good to see Lagunitas on there. Anyone who is a fan of they more piney/fruity hop flavor (still don’t get all the hype about Dale’s Pale) should give Lagunitas a try.

  30. Darren W. says:

    Hells Yeah! Flying dog is brewed in walking distance from my house! I prefer their Porter though.

  31. wmfxir says:

    Too many of those choices are a bit hoppy. They totally missed Stone Pale ale, Sierra Nevada and may other worthy contenders.

  32. PhiTauBill says:

    No list is complete without Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Victory’s Hop Devil Ale…

  33. BurninAk says:

    They only sampled 20 beers and ranked those 20. Hardly seems like this is actually representative of the beers out there at all. The beer scene in the Pacific North West has grown like nowhere else and they seem to have missed over many notable brewery from the area. Alaska (where I live) was not represented at all and we thankfully have many AWESOME breweries here. My favorite is Midnight Sun Brewing Co. here in my home town. They ship to something like 13 states, but the best stuff is reserved for locals. First Firkin Fridays is where it’s at!