May 31, 2012

The Session 64 | Of Whales and Dales vs AZ Ale: Two Pale to Fail

In this month's 64th iteration of The Session, Carla Companion--The Beer Babe, asks that we reconsider the much maligned and often under-regarded Pale Ale.
Your mission – if you choose to accept it – is to seek out and taste two different pale ales. Tell us what makes them special, what makes them forgettable, what makes them the same or what makes them different.
Prediction: There will be dozens of blog posts entitled, "A Tale of Two Pales."

The Session topic announcement came at the same time that I read this footnote to a post by Joe Stang.
If you are one of those folks getting irked by expensive craft beers and festivals in the States these days -- and who isn't? -- then I have some simple advice for you. Stop buying whales and instead subsist on that local pale ale you've always liked but always ignore. Save those duckets, buy a plane ticket, and go to where the beer is cheap. Make a trip your whale instead.
In addition to the local pale ale mention (my emphasis), it perfectly captures my sentiment about extreme beer trading and the impending Westvleteren 12 shit show that is likely to occur once Shelton Brothers is able to start importing the one-time 7760 unit American gift pack release. That's 7760 units for the whole US of A. I fear the worst from even the best of us.

It seems that this sentiment of returning to the bread and butter of beer is being echoed locally. Patrick of the Brew Bros recently reconsidered the Sunbru K├Âlsch style ale and confesses that he, "has crossed some-sort of taste threshold where I am no longer looking for the biggest and the bad­dest beer" and he now seeks situation appropriate beers. New to the blogging scene but beer scenesters for some time now, the fellows at AZDraft have been drinking AZ only for the month of May and are threatening to continue to do so til year end. Noble and note-worthy effort local blog-amigos.

With fates aligned, I thought it might be fun to compare two local Pale Ales in a blind taste test and see how they fared against one another. My plan was to hit OHSO Eatery and Nanobrewery for the taste test since they boast 18 of their 36 taps are from Arizona breweries.

And here is where destiny seems to bend a curve where one would expect a straight line. There were only two Pales on the menu. They were rather dissimilar, only one was from Arizona and the other was iconic and incredibly familiar to me. It seemed that my experiment was already failed. I pressed on as there was a second matter to research. More on that as you read on.

The first beer is Grand Canyon Brewing's Horseshoe Bend Pale Ale. Grand Canyon of Williams does see some handles and shelf space here in the Valley, but I will admit that I am not able to rattle off tasting notes on it de novo. I'm a bit more familiar with their Sunset Amber, their flagship beer.

The second Pale was Dales Pale Ale, the flagship beer of Oskar Blues, a beer that I have spent entire weekends drinking during Northern Arizona cabin retreats. DPA is far more aggressively hopped and distinctively grainy than I suspect the local offering will be--by design and intent of both breweries. Had I came a day earlier, I would have been able to compare SanTan's flagship, Devils Ale to Dales, which in my opinion are  more similar Pales.

There is no way that I would confuse these two in a blind taste test. I was ready to make my call based on appearance when the samples were presented, noticing the thick white head on the presumed DPA. I waited for the aroma and it confirmed my visual. "It's this one. The Dales is this one," I confidently proclaimed. My server waited for me to at least taste them before revealing the answer. I took long determined swallows. I was unshakable.

And I was correct.

And I was also surprised.

The Grand Canyon Horseshoe had all of the elements of Dales Pale, just less so. Less in degree, mind you not less in any enjoyment or quality. The Horseshoe had a little less aroma, perhaps more Cascade, but restrained. Both Pales had similar graininess. Dales had longer lingering bitterness.

You simply cannot know these things without trying them blind, side by side. I intend to do more of these types of tastings. I've found them invaluable.

If you're still with me, here is he second thing I was researching and it's the reason why I've linked flagship, now four times. If you are a blogger and particularly if you live in the US, please consider writing about flagship beers during the week of Flag Day June 10-16. If you're a reader, I encourage you to re-visit some flagships with a presumably more experienced palate. Encourage other bloggers to explore this idea and, of course, comment it up at the blog or social media outlet of choice. Use the hashtag #flagshipbeer.

Update: Included the missing Brew Bros link.

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