Looking back over a brief history of Beer Town, it seems that every year or so I return to the subject of pale ale.
Of course, at a time when IPA is still the undisputed king of craft beer, especially among many millennial males, my pale ale fixation might mark me as old or even a tad dotty.
But given the storied history of American pale ale, as defined by indigenous ingredients such as citrusy Cascade hops, and beers such as Sierra Nevada’s most famous example, it’s still a style worthy of mad respect, in my opinion.
Much more than that, though, pale ale is delicious. Striking a balance between lighter lagers and hoppy IPAs, it’s an easy-drinking but flavorful beer that can be enjoyed during a session at the pub, or just about any time as a versatile match for a wide variety of foodstuffs.
And here’s the timely part: Much to my delight and wonder, several Georgia breweries have released new takes on the pale ale style in the past few weeks.
Right now, Atlanta’s Monday Night has one of my favorites, Han Brolo Pale Ale. Part of a new year-round lineup, it was unveiled to coincide with the recent opening of the brewery’s second location, dubbed The Garage.
What’s strikes me most about Han Brolo is that much like the retro-cool geometrics of the can design, it’s a pale ale for our times — hazy and hoppy, but more juicy than bitter, and fairly low in alcohol.
To learn more about how and why it was made that way, I asked the young man who came up with the recipe, Josh Johnson, also known as “Creative Brewer and Designer of Tasty Cold Snacks” at Monday Night.
“There’s a huge trend that I’ve noticed among brewers, who are starting to brew more beers that aren’t going to make you want to go to sleep,” Johnson said and laughed a little. “That’s sort of where pale ales are at.
“They’re really sessionable. And I just love them because if you just want to sit down and have a beer and not need to take a nap afterwards, that’s what you need to be drinking. And if you’re having a meal, it’s not going to assault your taste buds ”
As far as the particulars of the Han Brolo recipe, Johnson explained that it took a while to dial it in. But that’s a big part of what he does as the Monday Night creative brewer.
“I’m sort of like the chef de cuisine here, I guess,” he said. “For the most part, my job is just coming up with beer recipes. We have a five-barrel system, and to come up with the concept, I’ll brew a beer and see where it goes, then make tweaks.
“For Han Brolo, I think we had four separate batches that I was working with, which is what I often do to get to a beer that’s exactly what we want, and is ready to go out to the market.”
In this case, Johnson said he was looking for a hybrid of the old and the new.
“I love classic West Coast pale ale, and I love new East Coast pale ale, too,” he said. “I was trying to find a way in the middle. I wanted to balance the bready malt nose and flavor of the West Coast style, but also add the big hop aromatics and juicy flavor of the East Coast style.”
Three new Georgia-brewed pale ales to try right now
Han Brolo, Monday Night Brewing, Atlanta (available on draft and in 12-ounce cans): A contemporary hazy-juicy pale ale brewed with wheat malt and Simcoe, Mosaic, and Mandarina Bavaria hops. At 4.7 percent, it’s both fairly low in alcohol and not especially bitter with a balance of bready malt and bright hop notes.
Hammer 58, Terrapin Beer, Athens (available on draft at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, SunTrust Park, and the Terrapin tasting room): A limited edition beer brewed at the ATL Brewlab at SunTrust Park with former Atlanta Falcons linebacker Jessie Tuggle, it’s an easy-drinking, hop forward pale ale that comes off as simultaneously subtle and complex.
Penguin Pale Ale, Red Brick Brewing, Atlanta (available on draft and in 12-ounce cans): Just out this week, Red Brick’s newest beer collaboration with the Georgia Aquarium is described as an “easy-drinking, hazy, contemporary pale ale” that features Crystal, Denali, and Citra hops, with “flavors of citrus, pine, and tropical fruit.”