How to Brew an American Pale Ale Beer (Ingredients & Instructions!)

Besides drinking American beer, you can celebrate American brewing by participating in it. Brewing an American Pale Ale is one way to participate as well as create a great beer. While it is a simple brew, it can have its quirks.

When brewing an American Pale Ale, you should primarily use American ingredients as they will best capture the flavors and aromas of the style. Cascade hops, US 2-row malts, and neutral yeasts are common ingredients in an APA and will create a beer that is citrusy, piny, and crisp. APAs tend to be softer and less hoppy than their IPA cousin.

Get ready to brew a classic American beer that pairs well with nearly any food! Keep reading to learn the best way to brew an American Pale Ale.

What is an American Pale Ale?

America has long been labeled “the great melting pot” and for good reason. We take people, traditions, and cultures from all over the world to throw together to make something new. The American Pale Ale is one small example of that.

This American-style pale ale is based on English recipes for their pale ales. The major differences are from the hops and yeasts used. The two use their local hops—typically cascade for American and kent goldings for English. The yeast used for APA’s is usually cleaner fermenting than the yeast for EPA’s.

Due to the American hops and cleaner yeasts, American Pale Ales are usually defined by their pale coloration, crispness, citrus notes, pine notes, and hop focus with a malt background.

  • Color – typically light gold or amber, 6-14 SRM
  • Common flavor – caramel, citrus, pine
  • Aroma – citrus, bread, pine
  • Mouthfeel – higher than average carbonation, smooth
  • IBUs (Bitterness) – 30-50
  • ABV – 4.4-5.4%

History of the American Pale Ale style

As I mentioned above, the American Pale Ale style is derived from the older English Pale Ale. Due to this shared history, there are a lot of similarities. However, there are plenty of differences that come from the unique history of the APA. 

The overarching pale ale style came about with the use of coke (the fuel source, not the drink or drug) for brewing in the mid to late 1600s. This purified coal burns cleaner than the previously used wood or peat fires. It allowed brewers to roast lighter malts than was previously possible.

The English Pale Ales that resulted from this shift did very well for quite some time. Like all things, they waxed and waned in popularity over the centuries. At some point, they had to adapt to survive the journey to India which birthed India Pale Ales, but that is another story.

APAs came about when brewers in America began making pale ales with American-grown hops. The inspiration for this new style is often cited as Liberty Ale from Anchor Brewing. Today, Liberty Ale exists in a grey area between IPA’s and APA’s.

Here are a few great examples of the American Pale Ale style for you to try:

  • Sierra Nevada Pale AleInspired by Liberty Ale, this beer took the Pale Ale world by storm. It is a complex beer with citrus and pine high notes that champions the style.
  • Maine Beer Company MO Pale AleThis Maine beer takes the style and gives it some extra zest. Fruity flavors are the main focus with some balancing malt flavors.
  • 3 Floyds Brewing Zombie DustAnother famous beer that puts its best hops forward. Zombie Dust is strong hop bitterness while still going down smooth.
  • Half Acre Daisy Cutter Pale Ale This beer brings a good balance between fruity and malty flavors. It finishes with a dry and slightly bitter mouthfeel.

For even more examples, check out my article on the best American Pale Ales to try in 2022!

How to brew an American Pale Ale

Now that you know a bit about the history of this style, I will detail every aspect of how to make an American Pale Ale. I will go step by step to dive into the ingredients and how they are used on brew day.

If you’re wondering “how long does it take to brew a pale ale” before you begin, then look no further. The entire process from brew day to tasting day will take 2-4 weeks. This can vary depending on whether you keg or bottle.

Recipe and ingredients

Before you can start brewing a pale ale you will need to collect the proper ingredients. Like other styles, an American Pale Ale has some flexibility when it comes to the recipe. Below are some tips and guidelines to get you started, but feel free to experiment with the style.

Water profile

A good water profile will provide a great foundation for your beer no matter the style.

Since this style emphasizes hops over malts, you will want to take advantage of the interplay between sulfates and chlorides to highlight the hops. To elevate your APA, start with the most convenient water source (RO, distilled, or tap). Then adjust your water to be fairly soft with more sulfates than chlorides. 

Check out this article for a more in-depth analysis of the best water profile for pale ale beer.

In general, however, good-tasting water will lead to good-tasting beer.

Base grains

It is the grains used that really make the pale ale style. For this reason, it is important to use great base grains.

When selecting base grains, any US pale 2-row malt will bring a nice clean canvas of malty flavors. If you want an APA with a more prominent malt character, you can use a German Bohemian pilsner malt.

The majority of your grain bill can be one of the two above malts for great results. The US 2-row is good for 90% of the grain bill but should be supplemented with some specialty fermentables or another base grain.

The Bohemian pilsner will provide a stronger malt background that may not mix with some hops. It is rather light at 1.6-2.3°L (Lovibond) This malt can work as your entire grain bill though it would also benefit from some specialty fermentables.

Other potential options include:

  • German Pale Ale Malt – Good for strong malt character 2.6-3.4°L
  • American Wheat – Good as supporting base malt 3-3.5°L

Specialty grains or other additions

While base malts will provide a good start, the specialty grains and other fermentables are where the complexity comes from.

American Pale Ales don’t need much extra maltiness since most of the focus is on hops, but they do need quality that comes from good specialty grains. These can include dextrin malts such as Carapils and caramel malts. Both have a variety of options that can improve the character and affect the color.

The dextrin malts can add a lot of character to the mouthfeel and head retention. If your only base malt is a US 2-row, then dextrin malts will be a good choice. Since most are well crafted, you won’t need to devote a large portion of the grain bill to them.

Caramel malts fill a similar role but are less efficient when it comes to improving head retention. Instead, these malts add color and some flavor. Use them sparingly as they can add sweetness and undue color.

Other possibilities include:

  • Golden naked oats – If you want an APA that is closer to an EPA this crystal malt will add some nuttiness 5.1-9.6°L
  • Honey Malt – Good for adding sweetness and some color 15.3-26.4°L

Hops

Now we get to the star of the beer – the hops you choose will have a large impact on the way your ale tastes.

American Pale Ales tend to feature American hops. Most famously they include Cascade hops, but there are plenty of other options. When selecting hops for an APA, look for hops that have citrus, pine, floral, or fruity notes as these are common to the style.

You don’t necessarily have to use only American hops. What is important is to choose hops that complement one another. However, you should use American hops for the majority of the aroma and flavor generation. Bittering hops can be more varied.

Bittering

Bittering hops are added at the beginning of the boil. Most of the flavor and nearly all of the aroma from the hops are boiled away. Hops used in this method will primarily add hop bitterness as their alpha acids isomerize. 

Since you won’t get much flavor or aroma from these hops, you can pick hops that aren’t from America. In fact, it is best to pick hops from anywhere that are high in alpha acids so that the bittering process is more efficient. Inefficient hops or high quantities can add an undesirable vegetal characteristic.

Below are some good bittering hops for an APA.

NamePurposeAlpha Acid %
ChinookBittering + Aroma12-14
ColumbusBittering + Aroma14-18
MagnumBittering12-14
WarriorBittering15-18
Aroma and Flavor

On the other side are hops you include for their aroma and flavor.

Aroma and flavor hops are added later in the boil. The less time they are in the boiling wort, the less their aroma oils boil off. These hops should be American so that your beer stays within the American Pale Ale category.

This also means that you have to be much more selective. Certain hop varieties will not mesh very well. Look for hops that have similar characteristics or complementary combinations

It is also possible to use a very simple hop selection. Brewing with just one flavor and aroma hop will ensure that there is one dominant tone. Just keep in mind that even when added late in the boil, they will add some bitterness.

NameFlavor/AromaAlpha Acid %
AmarilloFloral, fruity, citrus8-11
CascadeCitrus, floral4.5-7
CentennialPine, citrus, floral9.5-11.5
CitraFloral, fruity, citrus11-13
SimcoePine, citrus, fruity12-14

Yeast

The other main ingredient that sets American Pale Ales apart from other pale ales is the yeast used.

Good ale yeast strains for American Pale Ales have high attenuation, ferments clean, and low to medium flocculation. Avoid any yeasts that produce a lot of esters.

An APA will typically have no ester-produced flavors and is rather dry. This contrasts with the English Pale Ale which will commonly have fruity esters.

For a more detailed look, check out my article on choosing the best yeast for a pale ale!

Dry

Below are some good dry yeast options for an APA.

NameAttenuationFlocculationTemperature Range
Nottingham77%High50-72°F
Safale US-0578-82%Medium64.4-78.8°F
US West Coast Yeast M4477-85%High59-74°F
Liquid

Below are some good liquid yeast options for an APA.

NameAttenuationFlocculationTemperature Range
WLP00171-80%Medium68-73°F
Wyeast 105673-77%Low to medium60-72°F
Wyeast 127272-76%Medium60-72°F

Brewing process for pale ales

When you have every ingredient you need ready to go and equipment sanitized it is time for brew day! Whether this is your first brew day or your hundredth, it is always good to review.

Before brew day, consider whether you are doing single infusion or step mash, the mashing temperature, necessary water quantities, whether you are using a yeast starter, and hop schedule.

Once you’ve figured out the answers to these questions, the brew day will be pretty standard. If your malt is not pre-milled, you’ll start there before moving on to the mash. After the mash-in and rest, you’ll lauter and sparge.

After collecting enough wort for your batch size it’ll be on to the boil with the hop adding schedule. Then it’s cooling the wort and pitching yeast for fermentation.

Mashing

Mashing is fairly standard, but as mentioned above there are a few things to consider.

The malts used for an APA are already modified so you do not need to spend the time on a step mash. A single infusion mash will work perfectly. Mash between 151 and 154°F for a balanced beer. 

With an American Pale Ale, I recommend you mash at 153°F so the beer will be slightly maltier to balance the hops. Your mash-in and rest should be roughly an hour. You do not want a lot of sweetness from unfermentable sugars so an hour mash is best for this style.

You should have roughly 1 quart of water per pound of grain in your recipe.

Boil

The boiling period for an American Pale Ale should be an hour long. This will allow you to extract enough bitterness from the bittering hops added at the beginning of the hour. Since you want the flavor and aroma from your other hops they should be added closer to the end of the boil.

Common times to add flavor and aroma hops are 20, 10, and 5 minutes before the end of the boil. The longer these hops are in the boil, the more bitterness they will impart. The level of bitterness in a typical APA can vary so feel free to customize bitterness to your tastes.

Whirlpool or flameout

While you typically add hops during the boil, you can also add them at other times.

Adding hops just after flameout or during whirlpool are similar methods, but slightly different. Both take place just after removing the boiling wort from heat. As the wort cools you can add hops to get more aroma and flavor with little to no bittering.

The difference is evident in the whirlpooling method. Instead of just adding the hops to a cooling wort, you also create a whirlpool in the wort. This collects the trub while the hops add their flavor and aroma.

In an APA style, both methods can be useful to get more of the defining hop characteristics in the beer.

Fermentation

The fermentation process for an American Pale Ale is nothing out of the ordinary either.

As with all beer fermentation, your APA will benefit from a consistent fermenting temperature. Fermentation shouldn’t take longer than a week, but don’t stress if it goes over.

If you are dry hopping, you can rack to a secondary fermenter once primary fermentation is complete. If you are not, it is alright to let the beer age in a bottle or a keg.

Temperatures

The temperature that you ferment at will depend on the strain of yeast you use.

For an average APA, you will want to keep the fermenter between 65 and 70°F. If your chosen yeast creates more esters than you want in this beer, you can keep it on the lower end of its temperature range to reduce ester formation.

Keeping the fermenter at a uniform temperature for the entire process will help your quality in the end.

Bottling or Kegging

The age-old question of bottling versus kegging continues.

You do not need to stick to a certain packaging method for an APA. This style of beer does not receive particular benefits from either bottling or kegging.

Choose a method that works best for you and your carbonation style.

Example Amerian Pale Ale recipe and instructions

Here is a good starting all-grain recipe if you want to try your hand at an American Pale Ale. It makes 5-gallons. This recipe comes from the APA all-grain brewing kit on morebeer.com. Also available is an extract brew kit for the same style.

Ingredients

  • 2-Row Malt – 9 lbs
  • Crystal Malt 15°L – 1 lb
  • Magnum Hops – 1 oz
  • Cascade Hops – 2 oz
  • Clarifier
  • Yeast of your choice. Suggested: WLP001, Wyeast 1056, Imperial A07, US-05, Omega West Coast Ale I, CellarScience Dry CALI

Method

  1. Set up all-grain brewing equipment.
  2. Heat 2.75 gallons of water to 153°F.
  3. Slowly add the 2-Row and Crystal malts to the heated water in the mash/lauter tun. Stir while adding.
  4. Mash at 153°F for 60 minutes.
  5. After the mash, recirculate the wort until the runoff is mostly clear.
  6. Sparge with 170°F water for 45-60 minutes. Collect 6-7 gallons for the boil.
  7. Begin the 60 minute boil. Add the 1 oz of Magnum hops.
  8. At 5 minutes left on the boil, add 1 oz of Cascade hops and the clarifier.
  9. At 1 minute left on the boil, add the other 1 oz of Cascade hops.
  10. Cool the wort to pitching temperatures for chosen strain.
  11. Pitch yeast.
  12. Ferment at 68°F for at least one week.
  13. Allow one week for settling.
  14. Bottle or keg as desired.
  15. Carbonate your beer.
    1. If bottling, prime your beer for bottle conditioning. Carbonation can take 2 weeks.
    2. If kegging, force carbonate.
  16. Once carbonation is done, enjoy your beer!

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