It sounds poetic, even delicate: Pale ale. It pours from the tap a golden to copper color; fruity aromatics climb from the glass; a racy freshness coats the palate. Hooray for beer, the simple combination of water, malt, hops and yeast.
Add to that some proprietary brewer magic, and that four-ingredient recipe turns into a smooth lager or flavorful ale. For both lagers, and even more so, ales, the malt makes the body and the hops the finish. Malt flavors and sweetness come from the roast of the barley and grains while hops provide the spicy, herbal and bitter flavors.
Sample a 420 Extra Pale Ale
Here are some of the local establishments serving SweetWater 420 extra pale ale:
■ Alice Sweetwater, 1996 Airport-Pulling Road S., East Naples, 239-793-3700
■ Boston Beer Garden, 2936 Immokalee Road, North Naples, 239-596-2337
■ Marco Island Brewery, 1089 N. Collier Blvd., Marco Island, 239-970-0461
■ South Street City Oven and Grill, 1410 Pine Ridge Road, Naples, 239-435-9333
■ Tavern on the Bay, 489 Bayfront Place, Naples, 239-530-2225
■ Yabba Island Grill, 711 Fifth Ave. S., Naples, 239-262-5787
When it comes to pale ales, the interplay of fruity malt sweetness and zesty hop bitterness define the style.
Pale ales have their roots in Britain with the traditional "British bitter," a cask-conditioned beer pulled from a hand pump, defined by lightly toasted biscuit flavors and distinctive earthy hops. British pale ales, compared to their bitter cousins, have fuller body and carbonation, stronger hop presence and higher strength, and began as the bottled version of the pub's bitter. Think Bass ale, and now, Sierra Nevada pale ale, the classic version of American pale ale.
British pale ales certainly ignited the revival of craft brewing in the United States, but it was brewers in California in the late 1970s and early 1980s who pioneered the American pale ale style. When craft brewing flowered, importing English malts and hops was unrealistic for a budding brewer on a low budget, so brewers looked locally. They found malts that fell short, but hops that started a revolution: Hops from the Northeast offered a sharp, dry bitterness and piney, fruity aromatics unlike their British counterparts. These were hops that could and did define a style, the American pale ale.
You'll often hear of people distinguishing an APA as a West coast-style pale ale, and that basically distinguishes its high level of hop bitterness. One such pale ale that was just introduced in our market a little more than a month ago is SweetWater 420 extra pale ale.
Brewed and bottled in Atlanta, it is available from taps at 17 Southwest Florida restaurants and bars, including Alice Sweetwater, Yabba Island Grill, Tavern on the Bay, Marco Island Brewery, South Street City Oven and Grill and Boston Beer Garden.
SweetWater 420 extra pale ale pours golden straw, the kind of color that makes you order one without looking at the list. Big citrus and pine notes and subtle biscuit aromas waft from the glass, and the first sip is bracing yet smooth.
It's medium-bodied, slightly dry, follows with fruity, orange and lemon zest on the palate, and finishes with a subtle bitterness.
All these characteristics, coupled with a low alcohol by volume of 5.4 percent — Budweiser clocks in at 5 percent and Bud Light 4.2 percent — make it "sessionable," mild enough to enjoy multiple pints. It is perfect for the hophead to get started, ideal for the light drinker looking to graduate to a stronger ale, and poetic for all.
The ‘Hop Cop’
All craft brewers emphasize drinking their beer fresh, but SweetWater Brewing Company sets an unprecedented standard by employing a “hop cop.” The hop cop’s sole job is to drive throughout the Southeast making sure its accounts are selling and serving SweetWater cold and fresh. The date you see on the bottle is the expiration date — 90 days after it was brewed — and they print that on kegs for bars and restaurants to maintain freshness and quality. When I smell SweetWater, I smell the brewery, and to me, that’s as fresh as it gets.
If you like the 420 Extra Pale Ale, named for the date on which it was conceived, I encourage you to try the IPA and Blue, both available in the bottle and coming soon on draft here in Naples. If you like credentials, SweetWater’s got ’em: Great American Beer Festival small brewery of the year in 2002 and 11 other GABF awards for their tasty brews. Cheers!
Ashley Stites tends bar at the Avenue Wine Cafe in Naples and enjoys scouting out the best libations available in Southwest Florida.