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Pale Ale – Australia’s new lager?

For many decades, when Australian’s thought of Pale Ale, the first and only brand to register would be of course, Cooper’s Original Pale Ale. Cooper’s went completely against the grain of brewing trends in Australia, which at the time was very much driven by the love of the crisp and refreshing lagers (and still are to a large extent). By creating a cloudy, bottle-fermented ale, Cooper’s certainly put themselves on the quirky yet ironically, more traditional, Australian beer map.

For a while, Cooper’s beers were either deemed, “an old man’s drink” or consumed patriotically by South Australian residents (my first Cooper’s experience was actually in London in the 1990s, where it was introduced to me by an SA local… you can imagine the joy of him finding Cooper’s in a London bar!!). A turn around occurred when the younger generation, seeking to be a little different, embraced Cooper’s beers with a vengeance. Then, almost out of the blue, along came Little Creatures Pale Ale, launched from its very funky base in Fremantle, WA in the Summer of 2000/01. Little Creatures had created a new style of beer to Australians and one that we would continue to embrace with vigour and passion… the American style Pale Ale (APA). This beer had wonderful fruity aromas, was far more challenging than the long list of locally and internationally brewed lagers and boy, was it trendy to drink. That initial love affair with Little Creatures Pale Ale hasn’t really wavered either with it finding itself in the top five of any recent Australian consumer-driven beer polls.

From these two Pale Ales, many more have risen to the challenge and today virtually every brewery has a Pale Ale of some description in its range of beer styles. There are of course the American varieties, earning the title from their deployment of the vibrant American grown hops. American hops are certainly distinctive, rewarding the drinker with intense characters such as grapefruit, citrus, pine tree and resinous aromatics that delight our Aussie palates.  This style of beer is fresh and fruity and really suits our warmer climate. Popular examples of the style include Fat Yak, Alpha Pale Ale and the locally brewed 4 Pines Pale Ale and Wicked Elf Pale Ale. There are many, many more examples of this beer to be found in Australia.

In a nod to our more recent ancestry, comes the English Pale Ale or ESB (Extra Special Bitter) as many brewers refer to it as. This style of beer is also gaining in popularity as our brewers toil with the wonderful English hop varieties, which tend to provide more floral and earthy characteristics to a brew. The EPA or ESB lean more towards greater malt characters, with some wonderfully enticing caramel and toffee notes to be found in the beer, which are also supported with nutty or biscuity characters. These beers are the perfect go-to beer in the cooler seasons and include Mountain Goat Hightail Ale, Holgate ESB, James Squire Amber Ale and the Hargreaves Hill ESB.

And finally, heading back to where it all started in Australia, comes a flurry of activity around the Australian Pale Ale style. Following hot on the heels of the James Squire 150 Lashes Pale Ale is the latest new brew from Matilda Bay, the 4.7% I.G.P or Itchy Green Pants, a brand new cloudy Australian Pale Ale. Only available on tap since February, the I.G.P. name was inspired by the hot and itchy green pants the brewers work in all day, and with the rate at which the Australian public have embraced the 150 Lashes, the I.G.P. is sure to be as popular. Slowly our Australian breweries are reshaping our traditional and somewhat conservative, beer palates and as such, I believe the Pale Ale popularity is only going to grow stronger.

Now, onto my reviews. The I.G.P. really delivers those same refreshment cues as a lager, yet with more body and more complexity. The beer’s hops include two Australian varieties, the fruity Galaxy and peppery Summer Saaz, which give the beer a clean, zesty finish. It’s a great thirst-quencher and an easy step-up beer into the world of ales for those who tend to lean towards lagers.

Of course, there is also the classic Coopers Pale Ale, the original cloudy ale, which today continues to be brewed using traditional techniques. With a relatively light body and refreshing fruity characteristics and a soft bitter finish, the Coopers Pale Ale can stand proud as the first in line of the recent beer trend in Australian Pale Ales.

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