Alaina Kantner: Mission Impossible
Good evening, Ms. Kantner. Your mission, should you choose to accept it…Make pale ale interesting to a large group of beer geeks.
I know this may seem like a strange “mission” and might not be the plot of the next Tom Cruise movie, but I did feel like Alaina created a tough job for herself at beer school this week. As you may already know Cicero’s summer school is all about blind tastings, and tonight’s style is Pale Ale. I mean is it just me or does the term “Pale” scream boring. Well I looked it up to make sure I’m not off base and put together a quick recap of the 4 definitions offered up by dictionary.com.
Pale: lacking intensity of color; low degree of saturation; dim; not bright or brilliant; faint or feeble.
Not sure I have ever seen those descriptors on a beer bottle so there has to be more to Pale Ale. Hopefully Alaina will accept this mission and help Pale Ale gain some respect around here.
The Student Becomes the Teacher
I’m sure many people were whispering to each other, “That girl looks familiar,” as Alaina took the Beer School stage. Alaina was a fellow blogger and student at Cicero’s for 2 years before taking a job with Grey Eagle Distributors where she now serves as the Craft Brand Manager. Turns out that a diploma from beer school can take you places. And you thought people were just here for the discount on beers. She found Cicero’s shortly after moving to St. Louis from small town Ohio, and after a few trips through the extensive tap list she discovered a love for craft beer. You can find her sampling beers around the county and is always happy to help you discover something interesting.
Put on Your Blindfold
As I stated earlier, tonight’s style is Pale Ale, and for some reason I immediately thought of merlot. Why merlot? Well it seems to me that pale ale is an intro or gateway beer to bigger and better things. Much like my wine drinking experience where I progressed from merlot to the bolder styles like cabernet and zinfandel, the same has been true for beer. I now enjoy IPA or imperial stout or barleywine. I could easily see the classic scene from the 2004 film Sideways playing out with “If anyone orders pale ale, I’m leaving. I am NOT drinking any F’ing pale ale!” instead of merlot. I would like to say there is nothing wrong with pale ale, but I just never see a tweet from Wine and Cheese stating “Hurry on over, we just got a case of pale ale, it won’t last long.” Tonight we will take a trip down the pale ale trail and see what we are missing. I hope Alaina can prove me wrong and show me the colorful side of pale.
By the way, Mimi hates guessing games so I do all the guessing during summer school. I am competitive right down to blind beer tastings. Turns out my 3rd grade teacher was right when she told my parents I had “an unhealthy competitiveness.” Let the games begin…
Sniff, sniff…Schlafly Pale Ale! Bazinga! One to nothing, I am winning again. Oh wait you said you aren’t playing guessing games. What’s that Mimi? You also recognize this as Schlafly Pale Ale? Well look who came to play this week. The first sample hits our glass and I think most of the class was very familiar with the nose of English hops and hint of cheese. I could be wrong here so let’s take a sip and explore. A thin mouthfeel, but great balance. The hops are more on the vegetable side than the fruit side. Creamy white head tops this light amber colored beer, and I confirm my original guess of Schlafly. Please don’t laugh if I am wrong, but I am have never been more sure about a blind sample than I am right now. Lock me in.
Answer– Schlafly Pale Ale (English Style Pale Ale) Nailed it!!!
Slightly deeper amber color than sample #1. Thin, collapsing head delivers a floral scent with hints of citrus. The hops are bigger and more forward on sample 2. This is sweeter than sample 1 and a little syrupy on the tongue. Nice linger of hops. Still balanced, but hop forward and tastes like an American Pale Ale compared to the first one. This could be a great everyday drinker, and I am loving it. My first guess would be Mirror Pond from Deschutes Brewing, but whatever it is, I plan on putting this pale in rotation. Lock me in on Mirror Pond.
Answer—Deschutes Mirror Pond (American Pale Ale) This game is too easy.
Very little head with similar color as first two. Turns out pale ales are actually light amber and not so pale. Alaina explained that all beers were brown or black before the creation of coke. Not the cola, but a fuel that is solid carbonaceous material derived from destructive distillation of low-ash, low-sulfur bituminous coal. Confusing, I know, but basically it allowed barley to be roasted at a lower temp to it was not smoked or burned. Now the beer could appear “less brown” thus pale. History lesson is over and we drink…this has a big nose, I get Belgian yeast and maybe even some candied sugars. Much stronger than 1 & 2 in every way. Too sweet for my tastes, but Mimi is loving it. In my mind this is not a pale ale, but that is why we are here tonight and why Alaina is showcasing the style. Could be some spices in here or orange peel, and it is definitely full in the mouth. Not sure I have tasted this beer before, but my guess would be Rare Vos from Ommegang. Not confident on this one at all, and this is the most exciting beer so far.
Answer—Goose Island Matilda (Belgian Style Pale Ale) Crashed and burned, this is proof that a Pale Ale can be interesting. I was totally fooled because I have tasted Matilda before and should recognize it. Never even considered it because I forgot about Belgian pale ale.
Another sweet beer that appears slightly darker. The taste is much lighter than #3 and I find my palate having trouble picking out flavors on this one. Hop forward again with a much cleaner finish. I get apple, banana, and bubblegum. Very interesting. The flavor is a little weak compared to the nose, but very pleasant. I am stumped on this one. As Alaina began the reveal she told us that one of the beers was an English brewed Pale Ale so as I run through the taps in my head I settle on Bass as the only option.
Answer—Bass Pale Ale (English Pale Ale) I won’t take pride in guessing this because it was mostly process of elimination. I am totally surprised that I enjoyed this beer and will have to visit it again. If you haven’t had a Bass in years, like me, then go out and try it.
The Last Sip
These blind tasting classes are truly eye opening and I learn something new each week. Sometimes a flavor in a beer is only exposed after sample 2 or 3 first and that was the case tonight with Bass. Much like wearing BluBlocker sunglasses, the first 3 beers blocked out the primary hop notes and allowed me to focus in on the second layer of flavor where I found the fruit. All 4 beers were keepers, but Matilda was the most flavorful and Bass was the most surprising. As we have been told before at Beer School, “Drink without prejudice.” We did our best to do that tonight and were rewarded. Alaina was able to deliver 4 distinct pale ales and one actually had me completely fooled about the style and the name. Excellent job and mission accomplished.
About the Authors: Husband and wife Eric and Mimi have been attending beer school for about 3 years now and love every minute of it. Mimi was born and raised in St. Louis. Besides sitting down with a fabulous pint of beer, she enjoys gardening and spending time with her horse. Eric was born and raised in Texas. He enjoys sports, homebrewing and searching for the next great beer. A search he says he has been on for nearly a decade and one that will certainly never end. Mimi, on the other hand, has more recently discovered flavorful beer and is now proud to be called a hop-head. After having moved away for a few years, in 2007, this happy couple moved back to St. Louis and is enjoying all the St. Louis beer scene has to offer, especially Cicero’s Beer School. Cicero’s is lucky to have such an enthusiastic couple writing the beer school blog!