The Challenge of American Pale Ales
Friday, 22 May 2009 12:00

The challenge of American Pale Ales

The world has always loved a great battle - David taking out Goliath, the armies of Rome battling the Vandals, the Royal Air Force defeating the Luftwaffe, Ali versus Frazier, George W Bush against the English language…

In July 2009, one of New Zealand’s most heated brewing rivalries will be re-kindled at the Second Annual American Pale Ale Challenge.  Two of the country’s best brewers will each produce an exclusive hop-fuelled and American-inspired pale ale looking to knock their opponent to the floor.  Round one last year was a hard fought match with no clear winner declared.  On 17 July at the Malthouse it’s round two. 

Cue the voice-over which sounds quite a lot like Michael Buffer but clearly isn’t for exciting copyright reasons:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Children of All Ages.  The Malthouse, in association with Colin the Handsome and Softly-Spoken Scotsman, is proud to bring you the rematch that everyone wanted to see.  It’s The Imp versus The Plough and this time it’s personal!  Brewing out of the blue corner, from Epic Brewing Company, the man who put the twit into twitter, Luke “The Imp” Nicholas!  And his opponent, brewing out of the red corner by way of the Hallertau brewpub, the Nature Boy Steve Plowman!  Let’s get ready to rumb…”

Let’s get ready to get sued if we go too much further down that track.  The key point is to put 17 July 2009 into your diaries right now because it will be a hoppy main event.

As a style, American Pale Ales (APAs) are becoming increasingly popular in New Zealand.  They tend to be far hoppier and stronger than traditional pale ales and make extensive use of assertive American hops.  Probably the first APA I tried was Little Creatures Pale Ale from Fremantle, Australia.  The Little Creatures brewery is housed in a former crocodile farm and the name is a reference to the live yeast which is left in the beer.  They are totally committed to using the best American hops and even ship in whole hop flowers from the US Pacific Northwest.  Apparently, Australian Customs were more than interested in the first shipment of hop cones because of their strong resemblance to another botanical product…

It is all worth the effort though.  The use of American hop flowers takes this beer to whole new levels of aroma, flavour and bitterness.  Pouring a cloudy gold, Little Creatures Pale Ale (5.2%) is a seriously tasty drop with lashings of hop, pine, citrus, grapefruit and lychee notes before a rousing bitter finish.  I drink mine with the Little Creatures (yeast) poured in though that is a matter of personal preference.

I was once perusing the supermarket beer shelves (as I am wont to do) when a gentleman I knew approached me to remonstrate about one of my beer selections.  According to him, I had recommended a particular beer and he had bought it but the beer wasn’t really any good at all.  This worried me so I asked which beer it was.  His answer was Chimay Blue which prompted me to respond that he was, of course, entitled to his opinion but he was, in this instance, quite wrong.

However, as a gesture of good faith I was willing to recommend another beer which I was sure he would like – Little Creatures Pale Ale.  He balked slightly at the $20 price tag so I offered him a guarantee – if he did not like the beer, he could return five bottles to me on the Monday and I would give him his $20 back.

Monday duly arrived (as it is wont to do) and I’d heard nothing all weekend.  The morning and afternoon passed and still silence.  Finally, at 4:55pm his email arrived containing the world’s shortest endorsement of a beer.  It simply read “I think I will keep them.” 

Remember, 21 May is International Wait Staff Day (according to my impeccable source The Modern Drunkard Handbook) so be extra nice to the lovely Malthouse staff that day.


Beer Writer
Real Beer New Zealand
Beer and Brewer Magazine


Epic Brewing Company -
Hallertau Brewpub –
The Imp –
Modern Drunkard -
Little Creatures -
Real Beer –
Beer and Brewer Magazine -