Top 10 California Pale Ales
The Classic American Pale Ale
American Pale Ales, arguably the most popular beer style for craft brewers, tend to range between 5-6 % alcohol by volume (abv). That makes them what some beer geeks call "sessionable," meaning you can enjoy quite a few of them in a single sitting without a high risk of faceplanting in front of your friends. Brewed with significant quantities of American hops that differentiates our pales from their older British counterparts, the style emulates the American India Pale Ale though IPAs are higher abv and more aggressively hopped.
We're focussing on what we know best, which are the West Coast-style pales that tend to be even hoppier and less malty than the rest of the country. We think California has the best craft breweries in the USA, so we're going to keep our top ten pale ales list right here among Golden State brewers. Turn the page for our list of Top 10 California Pale Ales.
An Assortment of West Coast-Style Pale Ales
10. Anchor Liberty Ale (San Francisco, 6% abv). Trailblazing brewer Fritz Maytag first brewed this pale in 1975 to commemorate Paul Revere's historic ride in 1775. Thirty-six years later, it is as smooth and drinkable as it was on day one.
9. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (Chico, 5.6 abv). A tip of the cap to the iconic pale ale that makes all the others on this list possible. First brewed in 1980, Sierra was the craft that started appearing next to Bud and Miller handles, thus shifting the beer landscape of what people wanted to drink. It was a victory of flavor over, uh, liquid.
8. Stone Pale Ale (Escondido. 5.4 abv). Stone Brewing took craft beer to a whole new level that turned into what is now a revolution. This was the signature pale that won over whole new legions of fans. More robust than previous pales, founder Greg Koch took the complexity in a pale to higher plane.
7. Beachwood BBQ and Brewing Breaker Pale Ale (Long Beach, 5.5 abv). To show how far craft brewing has come, we go from the three pioneering pales above to a beer that was just recently released. You read that right. Award-winning home brewer turned pro Julian Shrago shows how creative brewers get by dry hopping with Columbus, Centennial, and Cascade hops for a burst of fresh aromatics.
6. Green Flash 30th Street Pale (San Diego, 6 abv). Like Breaker above, this smooth offering is dry-hopped to give it the bite of an IPA. Named for the street in San Diego that is lined with a dozen craft beer bars and restaurants and that should be a mandatory weekend trip for any true L.A. beer fan.
5. Strand Brewing 24th Street Pale (Torrance, 6.1 abv). In the battle of the "Street" pales, we're going to give an ever so slight nod to our local brewer, Joel Elliott. This highly enjoyable, complex pale pushes the pale abv limits and co-owner Rich Marcello self-distributes to seemingly every decent beer bar in L.A. County.
4. Alesmith X (San Diego, 5.5 abv). A fan favorite for being super smooth, with a refreshing aroma of fresh hops with elements of citrus and pine. We think it's even better on draft than in the bottle, so try to track it down at a beer bar.
3. Port SPA - Summer Pale Ale (San Marcos, 5.2 abv). The brewers at Port make SPA without any crystal malt. This brings out the zing of the hops and, at 5.2 abv, you can drink it all day long. And in another trip south suggestion, hit up any of the Pizza Ports in San Diego county to have one of their killer pies to soak up some of America's finest beers.
2. Alpine Ale (Alpine, 5.5 abv). What Alpine brings to the pint glass and the pale ale class, from a tiny town due east from San Diego, is citrus. We had this on draft at Beachwood on a hot day and it was like drinking lemonade, only way better. Not just good, but exceptionally good.
Tom Kelley Pours a Drake's 1500 Pale at Library Alehouse
1. Drake's 1500 (San Leandro, 5.5 abv). Founded in 1989 and so one of the older California brewers, Drake's set out to brew a super hoppy beer like what was becoming the West Coast IPA-style, yet was low enough alcohol to drink several without starting to slur. They ended up setting the benchmark by which all other West Coast pales must be measured. And so far, though hundreds have tried, no one has been able to knock them off the mantle. For daytime, especially summertime, drinking, nothing beats a 1500.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Los Angeles dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.