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Beer Reviews

Extra Pale Ale

Summit Brewing Company
St. Paul, MN
USA
http://www.summitbrewing.com/

Style: American Pale Ale
ABV: 5.1%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Recommended)


Comments:
Nigel’s spring ‘08 “Tour O’ Dark Beers” continues today with … well, it doesn’t continue. No matter how hard I may try to spin it, there’s no way I can pass off Summit Extra Pale Ale, an American pale checking in at a mild 5.1 percent ABV as a “dark, powerful brew.” Thus, we’ll consider this a brief detour, though much like the geriatric idiots in Van Halen, you never know if I’ll continue with the tour or just call it quits early. We shall see.

I felt the need to review a beer that I’m already familiar with due to the fact that it’s one of the most prolific brews in the upper Midwest that has yet to be touched on here at BeerDorks.com. As the preeminent craft beer we bsite in the Midwest and beyond (a designation that I just now declared and am awaiting Congressional approval of), it seems a bit of an oversight to have not included it. Summit is by far the most distributed craft brewer based in Minnesota, although I have yet to find anything from them that would lead me to believe that they’re anything other than very average (though they did garner some votes in our Midwest Brewery Power Rankings).

Extra Pale Ale is essentially the Midwest equivalent of Sierra Nevada’s flagship brew, Pale Ale. While I find Sierra Nevada’s version to be far superior, you can draw a number of parallels between the two, including their respective roles as light, refreshing APAs that can appeal to a wide audience (read: shit beer drinkers as well as craft beer lovers). The name Extra Pale Ale is a bit deceiving if you ask me, as it seems to imply that this is a powerful, flavorful pale ale loaded with hops and alcohol. Instead, this is about as timid as an APA can be, though it does have enough redeeming qualities to rate it a solid three mugs, and as far as flagship brews go, it’s quite respectable (I often find most “flagship” brews to be among the worst selections from their respective brewers).

Summit Extra Pale Ale pours with a thick, foamy pillow that settles to a creamy trace lingering at the top throughout the drink. A golden brown hue reveals no sedimentation and light carbonation, though it is dark enough and maintains enough lace to resemble a true craft brew rather than macro-brewed swill. The aroma is fine for an APA, but nothing out of the ordinary. There is a nice hop profile, but I can’t really pinpoint the variety utilized. As is common in APAs when compared to their stronger IPA and imperial IPA cousins, there is a noticeable malt profile as well, courtesy of two row pale and caramel malts. Thus, the overall aroma is mildly hoppy and earthy, with a bit of sugary sweetness, but it’s a tad on the weak side.

The flavor is exactly what you’d expect from an American pale ale, no more, no less. Not only is this a brew that is likely more enjoyable in the warmer summer months, it also has the potential to be a “gap beer,” a mild craft brew that is light enough to be enjoyed by craft beer novices that can’t yet tolerate the stronger brews, but may intrigue them enough to begin experimenting with other craft selections in the future. The hop profile is nice, but largely kept in check by the sweet caramel malt and clear attempt by Summit to market this to the masses. Initial flavors of American hops (again, I can’t really detect exact variety, but it doesn’t appear too heavy on the Cascades) are quickly tempered by a malty backdrop, mainly sweet caramel and light brown sugar flavors. A noticeable earthy, grainy flavor is also prevalent, something that can again be attributed to marketing to the masses, since it gives Extra Pale Ale some basic American lager characteristics. There is a minor tinge of fruitiness in the background, mainly a light citrus that can be attributed to the use of lighter North American hops. All in all, it’s on the timid end of the APA flavor scale, but is refreshing enough that it can be enjoyed on a hot summer day or used as a fallback beer. Medium bodied and extremely smooth, Extra Pale Ale leaves a mild aftertaste and is a prime candidate for a session beer given the relatively light flavor and low ABV.

When compared to other widely distributed Midwestern “staples,” Summit’s Extra Pale Ale isn’t bad. I’d rank it ahead of anything by Leinenkugel’s and New Glarus’ Spotted Cow; I’d probably put it in the same class as Goose Island’s decent (but not great) Honkers Ale, though don’t be fooled, as it’s still below many Midwestern craft offerings. When compared to other APAs, I’d say it’s slightly below average as the hop profile is too muted. It’s worth a try if you find yourself stuck in a dive bar with a poor selection, but otherwise I wouldn’t rush out and pick it up expecting much. If you’re looking for decent beer from Minnesota, stick with Surly or one of the smaller, under-the-radar brewers.

Cheers!

Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on April 14, 2008.
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