Inventive brewers subsequently sought to protect their pale ales from the rigours of an unrefrigerated sea voyage to the sub-continent by adding more hops and increasing the beers alcohol content.  In this manner, India Pale Ale (IPA) was created.

Writing in the mid-1990s, legendary beer writer Michael Jackson noted that “the hoppiest examples of this style are made by the new generation of American brewers – 5.0%-plus, sometimes far higher.”  In essence, Jackson was recording the gradual emergence of a new beer style.  The American offerings eventually became so different from the classic IPA that they needed their own beer style – American Pale Ale (APA). 

In the on-line edition of All About Beer magazine, they offer this simple definition of an APA – “The US version of pale ale is crisper and generally much more hoppy.  Indeed, this style is well suited to assertive domestic Pacific North-western hop varieties that give the United States examples inimitable character.”  That is not only a useful explanation but it is always satisfying to see “inimitable” used to describe a beer.

For those that want to get really technical, the Beer Judge Certification Programme (BJCP) sets out the guidelines for American Pale Ale in Category 10A.  They talk about a –

“usually moderate to strong hop aroma from dry hopping or late kettle additions of American hop varieties.  A citrusy hop character is very common, but not required… The balance is typically towards the late hops and bitterness, but the malt presence can be substantial.  Caramel flavours are usually restrained or absent.  Moderate to high hop bitterness with a medium to dry finish.  Hop flavour and bitterness often lingers into the finish. Dry hopping (if used) may add grassy notes, although this character should not be excessive.”

What they are looking to see is a beer which is “refreshing and hoppy, yet with sufficient supporting malt.”  Sampling a number of excellent American Pale Ales in Chicago recently inspired brewer Carl Vasta to make Tuatara APA (5.7%).  Vasta wanted a beer which showcased American hops but was also approachable and maybe even a little sessionable. 

Tuatara APA is brewed with American Cascade, Simcoe and Amarillo hops and uses Crystal and Maris Otter speciality malts.  I tried an un-carbonated sneak preview and can report that it pours dark amber with orange highlights in the glass.  The nose billows above the rim with plenty of floral notes and a sharp citrus bite.  It is a big beer which is silky in the mouth.  The dominant flavours are passionfruit and then grapefruit.  Tuatara APA gets more resinous on the finish, which is predictably long and dry (around 60 International Bitterness Units.) 

It would be fair to say I liked it.  For food matches, I’d definitely be looking for something spicy.  Jamaican Jerk Chicken springs to mind, or perhaps a good curry.  From the Malthouse menu, it should go magnificently with the American Hot pizza (pepperoni and chilli).

The first official chance to try Tuatara APA will be at the launch party on 26 May 2010.  This event starts at 5pm and is open to the public – just pop in anytime after beer o’clock. 

New Zealanders are really developing a taste for big hoppy beers.  That is just as well really as Malthouse is planning a showcase of APAs over the entire month of July.  The highlight will be the 2010 West Coast Challenge which is fast approaching.  Once again this year, Luke Nicholas from Epic and Stephen Plowman from Hallertau will square off to see who can make the best West Coast-style APA in the country.

However, there is a new twist.  Tired of both brewers endlessly claiming victory, the Handsome Yet Softly Spoken Scottish Proprietor Colin Mallon has declared that this year the drinking public will get to vote for their favourite APA.  Voting will take place on Challenge Night (17 July) and, unlike the British election, there will be a winner on the night.  Move over whoever the new British Prime Minister is,** this will be the election of the year.

The blog will contain more details of APA July and the West Coast Challenge.  This is only the start of the build up towards the hoppiest time of the year!

* Obviously not the absolute beginning.  The beginning of Pale Ales really.
** You know, the one with the floppy hair who can actually smile at human beings.


Beer Writer
Real Beer New Zealand
Beer and Brewer Magazine