It’s not like there is a line between the American pale ale and the American IPA. Sure, the Beer Judges Certification Program draws a distinction between the two styles, but what’s an IPA these days? Is it the dank, resinous hop explosions from the left coast or the smoother, sweeter east coast version? Do the floral midwestern style or the Northeast juice bomb enter the conversation?
And what would you consider a pale ale? Do ambers make the cut? Strong pale ales?
The variants and subvariants of pale ales created by the craft beer revolution trace their roots back to 1975, the year San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Company first brewed its Liberty Ale, commemorating the 200th anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride. It’s considered the first modern American pale ale by beer historian Michael Jackson (Shamone!), differing from its English counterpart in its hops and malt choices. Anchor used American grown Cascade hops in the brew and employed only malt, as opposed to the British malt and sugar combination, to create the sweetness on the back end. Five years later, Sierra Nevada would back up a dump truck of hops to the mash tun and reinvent the style with the first run of its now ubiquitous Pale Ale.
With blurred distinctions across the pale ale continuum, we’re left with broad generalizations: the most mildly hopped beers fall are pale ales while the more bitter, hoppy ales are IPAs. Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale, Dogfish Head’s 60-Minute IPA and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale remain the occupying forces on the boundary, existing along the 38th parallel between the two nations.
Look behind the pale ale battle line, and you find Half Acre’s Daisy Cutter. It was one of the first beers made by the Chicago-based brewery, hitting the streets in 2009. The hop-forward pale ale is reflective of the brewery’s short history.
Gabriel Magliaro began brewing in 2006, contracting its work to a third party, before opening up its Lincoln Avenue brewhouse on the city’s north side in 2008. It reached capacity quickly, leading to the opening of a 60,000-square-foot brewery in 2015 on the fringe of Rosehill Cemetery in Andersonville, just two miles away. Daisy Cutter was there all along.
Half Acre distributes to New York and Pennsylvania, but its reputation is national. The Daisy Cutter gets a 94 from the Bros (owners and brothers Jason and Todd Alström) at BeerAdvocate, putting it in a tie for 19th place among all pale ales rated by them.
The silky foam feels like it was layered on top like a meringue and it’s equally as sticky.”
Daisies stare back at you from the side of the silver 16 oz. can. Crack it open and pour it into your favorite vessel to reveal its brass, hazy hue. The silky foam feels like it was layered on top like a meringue and it’s equally as sticky. That head doesn’t dissipate, lingering as you sip. The blend of hops produce aromas of lemon, pine, and grass at first with some floral notes as well. As it comes up to temperature, you'll detect some biscuity, crackery scents from the malt.
Don’t try to find the flavors in the first sip. Just enjoy the rush of dank hops that present themselves at first before uniting with the malts in a well-choreographed dance where the hops lead.
Take your second sip and begin analyzing. Citrus hints avail themselves among the dank, resinous hop profile. A medium carbonation burn enhances the hop bitterness, which joins the bready malts. The finish has tropical fruit flavors and is dry and crisp, encouraging you to take a third and fourth sip. Indulge, but don’t rush it.
You want this beer to warm up some. The hops become danker, the malts turn breadier, and that dance flourishes. It’s really quite a thing they have done with this beer.
Yet, it’s only 5.2% alcohol by volume and, while medium bodied, it’s to the lighter end of that distinction. Like Sierra Nevada, Half Acre takes everything you would expect from an IPA and packed into the body of pale ale.
Except that Half Acre does it better.