Port City and Highland pale ales – “The Session” June 2012 tasting

As part of my initial foray into “The Session,” a monthly beer blogging effort, I picked up two pale ales for this month’s event. I was trying to accomplish a couple things with my selections – stay “local” with a couple beers distributed to regionally to this area and pick two beers I haven’t had before. As someone who generally doesn’t care for regular pale ales in lieu of more extreme flavor beers, this was a good task. On with my thoughts:

First up was Port City Essential Pale Ale, which has a 81 on Beer Advocate.

I made a note of this one on Untappd: “Odd. Complex in flavor, but kind of boring overall. Well balanced, at least.” The more I thought about it, however, I think the more I liked it. Sure, it didn’t blow me away, but for all the different aspects I got out of a pale ale, I’d call it a success.

On the nose, the beer had more of a floral tone than hop or hop bitterness. Maybe a little pine. It’s mostly citrus, but don’t take that as it will smell like grapefruit/orange/etc. The smell is very light and it’s just the predominant aroma. Slightly sweet, but not from the hops – the malt, I guess. Pretty even-keeled.

As for the taste, it came across as fairly basic. The hops aren’t overwhelming, but move very quickly from sweet to bitter. Served cold it actually reminds me of a very simple, mass-produced beer like Bud in the way that it’s crisp and fresh, but doesn’t offer anything terribly pronounced. As it warms, it has more of a resiny flavor – perhaps from the high alpha acid concentration of the Chinook and Columbus hops used. That taste doesn’t linger and is more of a quick flash of hop flavor. To me, this all seems appropriate for being a pale ale – the hops would really be front stage if this were an IPA, but instead the malt/hops balance each other out, no matter how badly the hops want attention.

My second beer was Highland Brewing Company St Terese’s Pale Ale, which has an 84 on Beer Advocate. While I wasn’t crazy for Port City’s offering, I didn’t particularly care for this one.

The smell was … yeasty? At least that’s the first impression I got. I wanted to say malty, but I don’t think that would do it justice to the precise smell. To me, it’s definitely a fresh yeast kind of smell, just subdued. Like if you opened up a Wyeast smackpack and took a sniff. There’s some citrus there too, although stale in its blandness.

The first sip was almost all bitterness up front. Unlike the Essential Pale Ale, this one doesn’t have much of a bridge between flavors. To me, it’s bitter straight through. On a second sip, I start to get hops, but it’s still like they’re hidden. The beer’s page on the Highland’s website says it has an “assertive American hop flavor,” but I’m just not getting it. I mean, Cascade and Chinook are American hops, but if I want a beer to be assertive, there’d have to be more than this. It’s clean, it’s balanced, but there’s not much else going on here. I’d get very bored with this very quickly. On the bright side, there’s some honey-like sweetness once it starts to warm up. So it’s got that going for it.

If I had to choose a better of the two, I’m all in on Port City’s Essential Pale Ale. I’d be bored of it, but I could drink multiple bottles. I know I have a very subjective palette, but when I’m looking for a new beer, I want something to “wow” me. Neither of these did that, but the Essential Pale Ale was the lesser of two evils.

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