I have a few pale ales for you this week, both of which are pretty local to me.
I’ll begin with a Wisconsin brewery I hadn’t heard of...One Barrel.
I got to enjoy a week WAAAY up north in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin. While there I was surprised to find a place that had a great selection of craft beer, not just the PBR and Miller Lite that everyone else had.
And, as a person who is easily persuaded by cool bottles, I found one I really liked in Penguin Pale Ale from One Barrel Brewing who’s down in Madison. Even though I’m only a few hours away from Madison, I had never heard of them before…so naturally I had to get it.
One Barrel began back in 2012 and is nestled between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona. Right now they offer three year round brews; a black IPA, a kölsch, and the aforementioned pale ale. Currently you can only find them in parts of Wisconsin – all of southern Wisconsin and then eastern and north-central Wisconsin as well.
Penguin Pale Ale is made with 20% wheat malt (so it should be a little sweeter) and contains a 5.7% ABV and a mere 40 IBU. A six-pack will run you just $8.99, so it is slightly cheaper than most.
This brew poured a dark copper color with very little head. There was never more than a thin dusting of off-white foam atop the beer with a solitary cloud formation swirling around the center.
On the nose there was quite the balance between hops and malt. There were some light bready and crackery malt notes that blended well with the hoppy pine and citrus attributes. Nothing really stood out as the aggressor and, instead, everything just seemed muddled together. Not bad, just a mix of it all.
My first taste began with a small tingle of carbonation that seemed to linger for much longer than I thought it would. Then, like the aroma, the subtle blend of the flavors began to emerge across my taste buds.
The citrus peaked first with some orange and lemon flavors that were quickly followed by a sweet caramel and biscuity malt to even things out. As the flavors faded away there was just a slight lingering hoppiness and just the tiniest touch of dryness but, otherwise, it ended very cleanly.
Each sip followed suit, in an act of balance that even circus performers would be jealous of – Fizz, citrus, caramel, bread, slight dry feeling.
Once again, nothing was the aggressor and it all blended quite well together. But it was just kind of boring in a sense. It was like it was TOO balanced. I don’t know if that’s possible but this beer just seemed to be lacking some excitement…some bold ingredient.
At 5.7%, it’s got a solid ABV and the booze is all hidden. And, as absent as the alcohol taste was, there was no lacing to be found as the beer disappeared from my glass.
Overall, this is a solid brew. It has something for everyone; some hops, some malts, some booze, and a good price tag. But it’s just too boring and average. It’s good but lacking a major punch one way or another.
Secondly, I have a brewery that’s just a bit closer to me - Miskatonic.
Miskatonic is yet another growing brewery from the Chicago suburbs. They call Darien, Illinois home and have actually been around since 2010. They have four year-round brews that include and IPA, an APA, a golden rye, and a Belgian farmhouse.
As the weather is getting hotter and hotter I just don’t think I could get through as many IPAs as usual…so I mixed it up and went with their pale ale, Shield Maiden. I know, I know…it’s a big change for me.
Each can of Shield Maiden is made with Simcoe and Cascade hops and comes with a 5.5% ABV (not too shabby…) and 50 IBUs. You can find a six-pack of them for the reasonable price of $9.99.
This pale ale poured a bright translucent copper color with billions of tiny bubbles flying upwards towards the surface. The slightly off-white head just continued to build and build until it reached just over three fingers high. The fluffy, but dense, foam then slowly began to dissipate, leaving a few stringy clouds around the sides of my glass.
On the nose this pale ale tried to be balanced but the hops just seemed to take the lead. Big amounts of citrus fruit – like grapefruit, mango, and pineapple – lead the way. Behind the tropical notes the malts linger with some subtle bready and crackery scents.
My first taste starts out with some solid carbonation that quickly fizzled away. The flavors then rushed forward from that and, to my surprise, it was not the fruity hops that came out swinging first.
The malt hit first with strong punch of bread and some light caramel, which added a nice sweetness to the beer. But, not to be outdone, the hops quickly countered with those citrus fruit notes. Grapefruit and orange lead the way with just a tad bit of pineapple and melon backing them up.
As the flavors began to fade away there was no bitter sting or any real dryness that accompanied the sip. Instead, it ends on a pretty clean and crisp finish with just a hint of hoppy fruit left buzzing around my taste buds. It was a really nice way to end a beer and made Shield Maiden very easy to drink.
I will say that there was a touch more bitterness to the aftertaste once I got towards the end of the can and the beer began to warm up some. But, for a brew with 50 IBU, it was still very palatable.
As the beer was drained from my glass, the mass of sticky bubbles got smaller and smaller but didn’t lace my glass. Instead, there were just four or five small clumps of foam that were slowly sliding down towards the liquid below. I was amazed at how little the beer actually laced my glass after seeing just how much, and how sticky, the head was initially.
Overall, I think Miskatonic got this beer right. The taste was more balanced than the aroma, with both the malts and hops shining in their own way. The lower ABV and small bitterness that (initially) came with it made Shield Maiden a very sessionable brew. It was a little watery and got progressively more bitter…but it’s still a very solid APA.