BREWING SMALL IS HARD. Especially in America, where big has been beautiful for so long. So it is that the redoubtable Founders of Michigan—masters of imperial stouts, American porter and IPAs, Scotch ale, etc.—struggle with the relatively basic Pale Ale of 5.4% ABV and 35 IBUs. Fresh into the glass, medium amber with a single finger of fizzy head, it blooms with the classic Cascade balance of sweetness and citrus (lemon and grapefruit). The initial sip also shows a pleasant caramel preamble to a late brightness of effervescence and clearing minerality of water. But the conclusion fails to live up to this early promise: soon the growing leafiness of the dry-hopping roughens the aroma and overpowers the beer’s light body, the subtler softer sides of Cascade fall away and the prominence of the malt sweetness is replaced by a weaker graininess. Oddly, the lingering impression is of a too-hoppy Helles, with bicarbonate sitting forward on the palate and relatively straightforward bitterness commanding the back in an overly dry finish.
Founders calls this beer a testament to Cascade, which is true only in part. More so it is a testament to how fresh and forceful flavors are not always good, and that compacting American assertiveness into a more modest frame can be a daunting challenge (as Lagunitas also found with Daytime). For a well-rounded Cascade celebration that lives comfortably within its means, Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale still sets the standard.
Served: 12 oz bottled 9/13/13