American Pale Ale (APA)


These are pale and refreshingly hoppy ales of American origin. American Pale Ales showcase American hop character contrasted against a moderate malt backbone. They use clean fermenting yeasts that allow the flavor of the ingredients to shine through without distraction from prominent fermentation flavors. This places more emphasis on recipe formulation as opposed to fermentation technique. American Pale Ale began as an emulation of British Pale Ales while making use of indigenous ingredients.

Vital Statistics

O.G. 1.045 – 1.060
F.G. 1.010 – 1.015
ABV 4.5 – 6.2 %
IBU 30 – 45
SRM 5 – 14
Volumes CO2 2.2 – 2.7

Statistics from [1] and [3]

Related Styles

Stronger and hoppier versions may blur into American IPAs somewhat. While darker and maltier versions will be similar to American Amber and Red Ales. APAs could be considered offshoots of the family of British Pale Ales in particular ESB and India Pale Ale.


Pale ales are thought to have emerged in the early 1700’s.[2] Around this time English maltsters began to use coke-fired kilns for drying pale malt. Coke is produced from coal by heating it in a low-oxygen environment. The heat cooks off chemical impurities while the absence of oxygen prevents the coal from igniting and burning away. These impurities would normally interfere with combustion and are the cause of smoke. With the impurities removed coke burns very efficiently and does not produce smoke. Prior to the use of coke, malt was generally dried over smoke-producing fires, which resulted in brown to black malt with smoky flavors. The technological development of coke allowed for the large-scale production of pale malts and in turn allowed for pale colored beers. This technology later spread to mainland Europe; there it sparked a revolution in pale lagers.

Pale ale was just a description of the beers color at first before people conceptualized it in the modern sense as a beer-style (i.e. pale ale becoming Pale Ale). The early development of Pale Ale as a style is intertwined with the development of light colored and highly hopped ales exported from England to India –the original India Pale Ales. These beers tended to be highly attenuated, crisp in character, higher in alcohol strength relative to other English beers at the time, and of course hoppy.

Commercial examples of American Pale Ale first appeared in volume in the early 1980’s. American Pale Ale is in part based on ESBs and IPAs produced in Burton-upon-Trent, but substituting ingredients produced in the US such as malt, yeast, and crucially American hop varieties. American Pale Ales tended to deviate from English Pale Ales by being less balanced between caramel-maltiness and hop bitterness in favor of a more hop-centric presentation. This is achieved by using less crystal malt and more hops. Generally American Pale Ales are made entirely from malted barley. This might be partially due to backlash against liberal use of non-barley adjuncts in American mass-market lagers.

Brewing an American Pale Ale

Grains – Well-modified pale malt such as American 2-row malt often comprises the bulk of the grain bill. Small amounts of specialty grains may add some biscuit or caramel character (e.g. biscuit malt, crystal malts, Victory Malt).

Hops – Often American varieties are used although not exclusively piney or citrusy cultivars. Hop additions throughout the boil as well as dry hopping are very common.

Yeast – Clean fermenting American ale yeast or other similarly neutral ale strains.

Water – Low carbonate content. May have a range of sulfate levels.

When planning a batch of American Pale Ale (or any other style of beer) it may be helpful to start by imaging the flavors and properties you want in the finished beer. One idea is to start by choosing some varieties of hops and then selecting other ingredients that enhance the story you are trying to tell through the hops. Will the hops be strong and assertive? Then you might want a level of caramel maltiness to unobtrusively balance the hops while ultimately staying out of the way. Will the hops be subtle with nuanced flavors that play across the palette? Then you may want a comparatively stripped-down grain bill. Will the hops be a little rough with a slightly harsh character that hits you in the back of the throat? Then you may want a higher ABV to balance this or to use higher sulfate water to enhance this. Will the hops be citrusy, piney, floral, or some combination? How much and what kinds of hop bitterness, hop flavor, and hop aroma are desired? How will the bitterness, flavor, and aroma balance? How will the bitterness, flavor, and aroma interact with each other? And so on…

Given the prominence of hops in American Pale Ales selecting which hop varieties to work with and how to use them is an important design consideration. American hops with grapefruit or citrus flavors are the classic choice for this style. Cascade, Amarillo, Centennial, and Summit are a few examples of American hop cultivars that are often described as citrusy. There are some American hops that tend more towards pine flavors although often with some citrus character as well. Simcoe and Chinook are often described as piney. American hops that produce other flavors such as floral or earthy may also be used. Hops from anywhere in the world can also be used in keeping with this style. Either paired with American hops or used skillfully to create flavors similar to American hops.

APAs can have hop additions at any point in the boil and beyond. Hops may be added during the sparge via first wort hopping and could also be added while chilling of the wort via a hopback. Dry-hopping is commonly employed to impart strong hop aromas. There are numerous possibilities to experiment with different hop cultivars and different treatments during the brewing process. A hop cultivar might impart a grapefruit flavor (when used as a flavor addition) and the same cultivar (when used as an aroma addition) might produce an aroma that is more floral rather than the expected grapefruit aroma. Another consideration is that high alpha acid hops are often used earlier in the boil for bittering. This generally saves money by more efficiently getting the desired IBUs into the beer while using fewer hops. This also has the advantage of reducing the total amount of tannin producing plant matter in the boil. However tannin extraction from hops is generally not a huge concern for homebrewers.

American 2-row pale malt is an obvious choice of base malt for an APA. Since this malt is very well modified it is well suited for a straight-ahead infusion mash. Since it has a very neutral character and does not produce significant residual sweetness it does not mute hop flavors and produces a crisp well-attenuated beer without the use of adjuncts. Any pale and well-modified malt could be substituted for American 2-row malt as the base malt and have similar results. American 6-row pale malt is very similar with a little more protein and more mashing enzymes. The proteins could potentially cause some chill haze. Some people claim that 6-row has a less refined flavor than 2-row, but maybe that is what you are going for. English pale malt, which is also made from 2-row barley, and is well modified –should in most beers be indistinguishable from American 2-row pale malt. English malts intended for pale ale such as Maris Otter have a more substantial flavor (slightly nutty or toasted grain). While not interchangeable with American 2-row pale malt these pale ale malts are still a good choice for some or all of the base malt to produce an APA with a little extra grain character.

Specialty grains are often used in APAs to provide a mild amount of caramel sweetness, additional malt character, or a little extra body. Using 5-10% crystal malt in the grainbill can provide a little body and residual sweetness. It is also popular to include substantial amounts of Vienna Malt or Munich Malt both of which are light in color but produce intense malty flavors. Vienna Malt could be used as up to 100% of the grain in an APA. Munich Malt should be mixed with pale malt and kept to less that about 50% of the grist in order to keep the color in the pale range. Flaked wheat, flaked barley, or dextrin malt can be used to increase mouthfeel and aid head retention without darkening the color or adding much of their own flavor. These body-enhancing ingredients should be limited to about 10% to keep the beer light in texture and clear in appearance. Biscuit-like or bready flavors are sometimes produced in APAs by using lightly toasted malts: biscuit malt, Victory Malt, amber malt, brown malt and special roast malt. Brown malt and special roast malt are not really typical of APAs, but 2.5% of the grist should produce a moderate effect and more that 5% would likely be excessive for the style. For the other lightly toasted malts 5% should produce moderately assertive toasted biscuit flavors and more than 10% would be excessive. It is certainly not necessary to use every type of specialty grains in every APA recipe. In fact, excellent APAs can be made using only base malt or malt extract.

A clean tasting strain of American ale yeast with fairly high attenuation is most appropriate to the APA style. A clean fermentation profile means that these ale strains do not produce large quantities of fermentation byproducts like phenols and esters. They lack the gene responsible for phenol production, and while they do produce esters (all strains of brewers yeast produce some) they produce very low amounts of these fruity tasting compounds. The quantity produced should be right around the flavor detection threshold. This produces a crisp almost lager-like fermentation that serves to further enhance the hops. These strains will tend to have medium flocculation properties. High-flocculating yeasts often drop to the bottom of the fermenter early and leave unfermented sugars in the wort. Low-flocculating yeasts frequently have the mutation for phenol production and might taste yeasty because they remain in solution.

When selecting or modifying water for an APA, the primary considerations are the light color and prominent hoppiness. Since APAs range in color from very pale to dark amber, the mash chemistry will have negligible acidity provided by dark grains. Consequently the mash pH is at risk of becoming too basic, i.e. too alkaline. Carbonates are the main contributor to water alkalinity, therefore lower levels are desirable when brewing an APA. If the mash is too basic, then astringent tannins will be extracted from the grain husks. Optionally hop crispness may be accentuated by adjusting sulfate levels to mimic water from Burton-upon-Trent, the birthplace of pale ales. Unlike carbonates, which affect mash pH and have a more or less optimal range, sulfate concentrations are more subject to personal taste. Brewing water from Burton-upon-Trent is characterized by higher than expected carbonates, but these are neutralized during the mash by high concentration of calcium and magnesium. The theory goes that this particular balance of the three ions bicarbonate, calcium, and magnesium is near optimal for mashing very pale beers. Additionally the water of Burton is fairly high in sulfate while very low in sodium. This combination is thought to accent hops pleasantly. Where a higher concentration of sodium might give an impression of harsher hop bitterness.

APAs are descended from the English ale tradition and use well-modified base malts – therefore they are perfectly suited to infusion mashing or brew in a bag mashing. Mash temperatures in the low to mid range (149-153 F) will produce wort that attenuates more fully. While yeast starters generally improve beer flavor, they are less essential for moderate gravity ales like APAs. Most American Ale yeast strains produce good flavors when fermented in the range 65-70 F. The higher end of this range will generally produce more fruity-esters. An ester flavor ranging from none to moderate is in keeping with this beer style. APAs typically have a medium to medium-high carbonation. If kegging, use 2.2 to 2.7 volumes of CO2. If bottle conditioning, use a moderate amount of your favorite priming sugar. APAs are somewhat storable, and well-made examples should have a shelf life of at least a few months.


  1. ^ Beer Judge Certification Program style guide 10a
  2. Daniels, Ray. 2000. Designing Great Beers: The Ultimate Guide to Brewing Classic Beer Styles. Boulder: Brewer's Publications.
  3. ^ Hibbard, Mark. "A Primer on Priming." 1995.