AS THE DEFAULT pale ale from a brewery known for balance, Firestone Walker’s Pale 31 could have turned out dowdy—dependable and drinkable but wholly unremarkable. Happily, it isn’t. Though admittedly lesser than the exemplary Union Jack IPA and unlikely to top many lists of America’s best pale ale, Pale 31 still has plenty going for it. Flavorful and refreshing without being aggressive, its careful proportions and layered hop flavors (not just bitterness) are quintessentially Firestone.
The beer pours a lambent gold (7 SRM) with persistent effervescence filtering up from the bottom of the glass and a head moderate in size but pleasantly creamy. Unsurprisingly, the citric honey of Cascade hops take a leading role in aroma and flavor, though this is hardly a one-man show. Centennial and Chinook were also used for late-kettle additions and dry-hopping alike, giving Pale 31 a robust profile of resin, pine, grapefruit, zest, and so forth. Bittering with Fuggle hops accounts for 38 IBUs that are present and palate-cleansing (the heftiest punch shows up just before the aftertaste) without being unduly spiked by excessive carbonation or bicarbonates. The body is moderate, comprised of an unusually diverse malt bill (for an APA) that includes 2-row, Maris Otter, crystal, and Munich. The result is fairly transparent for all its components, though, aside from a little cereal flavor and grain texture in the aftertaste. It remains substantial enough to sit just over the carbonation level, keep up with the bitterness through the finish, and obscure any impression of the 4.9% ABV. Altogether Pale 31 isn’t a revelatory experience, but such easygoing contours can only come from meticulous calculations and a rare diligence in the brewhouse.
Served: 12 oz bottle
Note: Rated in a vacuum this beer would score several notches higher. Yet we also live in a world that contains Double Jack and Parabola, and even those powerful testaments must concede some few points to perfection.