Pale Smackdown: A Journey

Jeffrey Wiser, September 25, 2013

Pale Smackdown sounds pretty epic, right? It conjures up images from that whole Celebrity Death Match Show from MTV in the late 90’s for me, which is kinda weird in a lot of ways that I won’t get into now. But this smackdown has unique roots; roots one wouldn’t typically associate with beer drinking. You see, these two brews traveled about 400 miles to square off against one another. Or, actually, I traveled to them.

You see, I was (un)fortunate enough to spend Labor Day weekend moving from Phoenix to Los Angeles. That meant moving a lot of heavy stuff in sweltering heat as it was nearly 110 degrees in Arizona when loading up and almost 95 degrees with humidity in LA when I arrived to my new home. Needless to say, some self-medicating was in order.

Contender One was consumed while saying goodbye to a great friend over brews and burgers at a local hot spot. Devil’s Ale by SanTan Brewing Company is a really, really good pale. It may be my favorite beer from the state and I wish I had drank more of it now that I’m in a new region. While a lot of the AZ beers I explored underwhelmed (I feel like the state is still finding it’s way in terms of microbrews, but the wine is really good), Devil’s Ale always delivered.

  • Appearance: a nice carmel amber with adequate foam (3.5)
  • Smell: very clean, light hop and citrus aromas (3)
  • Taste: toasty, carmely hops and malts, light citrus, mild overall (3.5)
  • Mouthfeel: light and smooth, finishes clean (3.5)
  • Overall: refreshing beer tiwth little nuances rather than a big, bold taste (3.5)

A strong opening effort in the smackdown by SanTan Brewing was put to the test when I happened upon Contender Two. After three hours of sleep on a friend’s floor, the lady and I hit the road a little before 1:00am to travel across the Sonoran Desert. Since there is virtually no parking around our new building in DTLA, an early arrival was of the essence so as not get towed (the joys of big city living) since we had to park illegally to unload. A few hours later, all of our belongings were up several floors and in their temporary resting places. We were hungry and cranky, thus a beer was in order!

We happened to move in right down the street from a place that serves great sandwiches and has an impressive tap list, so we didn’t have to wander far (the joys of big city living). My Cubano sandwich was excellently paired with Bear Republic’s Racer 5, a California staple. Although I have seen it for years, I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I hadn’t tried it before. That was a mistake, as the Racer 5 is a strong effort. It has balance to it but maintains the bite that I’ve come to crave from anything pale.

  • Appearance: a golden, almost cloudy appearance with light foam (4)
  • Smell: citrus and floral notes are the most identifiable 
  • Taste: a nice balance of malts and hops with some citrus notes present (4)
  • Mouthfeel: a little lighter than some IPA's but maintains the necessary profile, including slight bitter aftertaste (3.5)
  • Overall: a unique balance with enough hops to clearly be an IPA without overdoing it. No wonder it's a go-to beer for many (4)

Since Devil’s Ale is an American Pale and Racer 5 is technically an American IPA, these two aren’t a perfect match. With that said, they are relatively close in profile with Racer 5 having an expected edge in hoppiness while Devil’s Ale has notable balance and smoothess given it’s hop profile. Head to head, I suppose I’d give a slight nod to Racer 5, but it’s close and this smackdown came down to personal taste.

Aside from comparing the beers, I think it was a worthwhile exercise to compare the American Pale and the American IPA so close to one another. One can really get a feel for the nuances of the styles when they are fresh enough in your memory to be accurately compared. With this being the case, this smackdown is almost certainly not the last. I just hope I don’t have to move again in a year to make it happen.