|With malt and hops as dynamically balanced as a surfer in the tube, California pale ales ride the crest of the American craft-brew movement
Firestone Pale 31
Pale ale is the specialty of the house at the Firestone Walker brewery, and nobody does it better. Pale 31 is the California-style version, named for the 31st state and made with a generous dose of Pacific Northwest–grown hops that give it an intense herbal-pepper nose and a definite West Coast stance on the palate. Like all the Firestone brews, beautifully made.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
The bacon-fat and pepper nose is one of the most inviting in the business, and the stuff only gets better on the palate, where the texture manages to be both lusciously viscous and thirst-quenchingly crisp at the same time. Ripe tropical fruit tones backed with a full-on dose of IPA-level hops. One of California's benchmark beers.
Stone Brewing Pale Ale
The opulent, rosin-like color is just first hint that this is going to be a special “pale” ale. Sweet, grainy malt on the nose. More assertive than aggressive on the palate, with a complex interplay among malt, alcohol and hops. Another excellent beer from Stone; buy a sixer—you’re gonna want more than one.
Mendocino Brewing Blue Heron Pale Ale
Bottle-conditioned, like all the Mendocino Brewing releases, Blue Heron is perhaps the only pale ale to qualify as a genuine meal in a bottle, a distinction usually reserved for porters and stouts. Rich, unctuous mouthfeel; ripe malt tone jazzed up with plenty of feisty hops. Pretty much a classic of the type.
Anderson Valley Brewing Poleeko Gold Pale Ale
Nose redolent of sticky hops that explode onto the palate with a bracing, if not alarming, bitterness. Don't worry: there's plenty of suave malt richness to complement the shrill tones. A gorgeous and unique mouthful of beer that's imminently drinkable.
Marin Brewing Mt. Tam Pale Ale
Brewed in the shadow of brooding Mt. Tamalpais, just north of San Francisco, this sudsy, coppery quencher unleashes nicely balanced hops and malt on a medium-bodied texture that coats the throat as it glides down the gullet and turns citrusy, and bit metallic, on the finish. My pick for best brew by which to watch the fog roll through the Golden Gate.