As an expert brewer, I have had the pleasure of crafting, tasting, and discussing a wide variety of beer styles. Two styles that often come up in conversation are white ale and pale ale. Both are popular, refreshing, and delicious, but they have some key differences that give them distinct characteristics. In this blog post, I’ll delve into the differences between white ale and pale ale, covering everything from the brewing process to their unique flavors and aromas.
The main difference between white ale and pale ale is in the ingredients and brewing process, resulting in distinct flavors, colors, and aromas. White ale, also known as witbier or Belgian wit, is brewed with a significant portion of wheat, along with coriander and orange peel for added flavor. On the other hand, pale ale is brewed with predominantly pale malt, giving it a light color and a malt-forward flavor profile with moderate hop bitterness.
1. History and Origins
White ale, also commonly referred to as witbier or Belgian wit, has a rich history dating back to the Middle Ages in Belgium. The style nearly disappeared in the mid-20th century but was thankfully revived by Belgian brewer Pierre Celis in the 1960s. Witbier is now a popular style worldwide, with many craft breweries producing their own unique interpretations.
Pale ale has its roots in England, where it first emerged in the 18th century. The term “pale ale” originally referred to beers made from pale malt, which was dried with coke (a type of coal) rather than wood, resulting in a lighter color. Pale ales have since evolved into a diverse range of styles, from the classic English pale ale to the more hop-forward American pale ale.
- Malted barley and wheat: White ale typically contains a significant portion of wheat, which contributes to its characteristic hazy appearance and smooth mouthfeel.
- Coriander and orange peel: These spices are often added during the brewing process to provide unique flavors and aromas to white ale.
- Yeast: Belgian witbier yeast strains often produce fruity and spicy esters, which add to the complexity of the beer’s flavor profile.
- Malted barley: Pale ales are usually brewed with predominantly pale malt, providing a light color and a malt-forward flavor.
- Hops: Pale ales often feature moderate hop bitterness, with English pale ales showcasing earthy, floral hops, and American pale ales highlighting citrus and pine flavors.
- Yeast: The yeast used in pale ales varies depending on the specific style, but generally contributes a clean, neutral flavor profile.
3. Brewing Process
The brewing process for white ale begins with the mashing of malted barley and wheat, which are mixed with hot water to extract sugars. The resulting wort is then boiled, during which time coriander and orange peel are typically added. After boiling, the wort is cooled and yeast is added to begin fermentation. White ale is often bottle-conditioned, meaning that a small amount of yeast and sugar is added to the bottle before sealing, allowing for a secondary fermentation that creates natural carbonation.
Pale ale brewing begins with the mashing of malted barley, with the goal of extracting fermentable sugars. The wort is then boiled and hops are added at various stages to contribute bitterness, flavor, and aroma. After cooling, yeast is added and the wort ferments into beer. Pale ales can be either bottle-conditioned or force-carbonated, depending on the specific style and brewer’s preference.
4. Color and Appearance
White ales are typically pale straw to light gold in color, with a hazy appearance due to the wheat content and yeast. The head is often dense, creamy, and long-lasting, thanks to the proteins in the wheat.
Pale ales range in color from pale gold to deep amber, depending on the specific style and malt used. They are generally clear, although some unfiltered or dry-hopped versions may have a slight haze. The head is usually white to off-white, with moderate retention.
5. Flavor and Aroma
White ales are known for their refreshing, slightly tart flavor, with notes of citrus and spice from the coriander and orange peel. The wheat adds a soft, bready character, while the yeast contributes fruity and spicy esters. The finish is typically dry and crisp.
Pale ale flavors vary depending on the specific style, but generally feature a malt-forward profile with notes of bread, biscuit, or caramel. Hop flavors can range from earthy and floral in English pale ales to citrus and pine in American pale ales. The finish is moderate to dry, with a balanced bitterness.
The mouthfeel of white ale is generally smooth and creamy, with a medium-light body. The wheat content contributes to a silky texture, while the high carbonation adds a lively, effervescent quality.
Pale ales have a medium-light to medium body, with a smooth or slightly crisp mouthfeel. Carbonation levels can vary, but are generally moderate, providing a balanced and easy-drinking experience.
7. Food Pairings
White ales pair well with a variety of foods, thanks to their refreshing, citrusy flavors. Some great options include:
- Light seafood dishes: The bright, zesty character of white ale complements the delicate flavors of seafood like shrimp, scallops, and white fish.
- Salads: The crisp, fruity flavors of white ale pair well with a variety of salads, especially those with citrus vinaigrettes or goat cheese.
- Lighter cheeses: Soft, creamy cheeses like Brie or Camembert are a perfect match for the smooth, refreshing qualities of white ale.
Pale ales are versatile when it comes to food pairings, with their balanced malt and hop flavors complementing a range of dishes. Some suggestions include:
- Grilled or roasted meats: The caramel and toasty malt flavors in pale ale work well with the savory, slightly charred flavors of grilled or roasted meats like chicken, pork, or beef.
- Burgers and sandwiches: The moderate bitterness of pale ale cuts through the richness of hearty burgers and sandwiches, making for a satisfying meal.
- Cheddar and other aged cheeses: The nutty, slightly sharp flavors of aged cheeses like cheddar complement the malt and hop notes in pale ale.
8. Popular Examples
- Hoegaarden Witbier: The classic Belgian wit, with its refreshing citrus and spice flavors.
- Allagash White: A popular American interpretation of the style, with a slightly more pronounced hop character.
- Blue Moon Belgian White: A widely available, easy-drinking example of white ale.
- Fuller’s London Pride: A classic English pale ale, with its toasty malt flavors and earthy hop character.
- Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: One of the first American pale ales, showcasing citrus and pine hop flavors.
- Little Creatures Pale Ale: An Australian favorite, with a bright, fruity hop profile.
In conclusion, the main difference between white ale and pale ale lies in the ingredients and brewing process, resulting in distinct flavors, colors, and aromas. White ale is brewed with wheat, coriander, and orange peel, giving it a refreshing, slightly tart flavor and a hazy, pale appearance. Pale ale is brewed with predominantly pale malt, resulting in a malt-forward flavor profile with moderate hop bitterness and a clear, light color. Both styles are delicious and versatile, offering a range of flavors and pairings for beer enthusiasts to enjoy.
Here are 10 key facts to remember about white ale and pale ale:
1. White ale is also known as witbier or Belgian wit.
2. Pale ale originated in England, while white ale has its roots in Belgium.
3. White ale is brewed with a significant portion of wheat, while pale ale is brewed with predominantly pale malt.
4. Coriander and orange peel are common additions in white ale, adding unique flavors and aromas.
5. Belgian witbier yeast strains often produce fruity and spicy esters, which add complexity to white ale.
6. Pale ales often feature moderate hop bitterness, with English pale ales showcasing earthy, floral hops, and American pale ales highlighting citrus and pine flavors.
7. White ales have a hazy appearance, while pale ales are generally clear.
8. The mouthfeel of white ale is smooth and creamy, while pale ale has a medium-light to medium body and smooth or slightly crisp mouthfeel.
9. White ale pairs well with light seafood dishes, salads, and lighter cheeses, while pale ale complements grilled or roasted meats, burgers and sandwiches, and aged cheeses.
10. Both white ale and pale ale are popular and widely available styles, with many craft breweries producing their own unique interpretations.
What is a white pale ale?
A white pale ale is a type of beer that combines the characteristics of a Belgian witbier and an American pale ale. It typically has a hazy appearance due to the use of wheat and a light malt bill, and is often brewed with citrus or spicy notes from the addition of coriander and orange peel. The hop profile is usually moderate, with a balance between bitterness and fruity or floral aromas.
Why is it called a white ale?
White ale is called so because of its pale, hazy, and cloudy appearance, which is caused by the high amount of wheat used in the brewing process. The term “white” refers to the color of the beer rather than its ingredients or flavor. Additionally, some white ales may be spiced with coriander and orange peel, which can give it a slightly citrusy and refreshing taste.
What does a white ale taste like?
A white ale typically has a light, crisp, and refreshing taste with subtle notes of citrus and spice, often with a slightly sweet finish.
What flavor is white ale?
White ale is a Belgian-style wheat beer that is typically spiced with coriander and orange peel, giving it a citrusy and slightly spicy flavor profile.
What makes a beer a white ale?
A white ale is a type of wheat beer that is typically light in color and brewed with a high percentage of wheat, along with spices such as coriander and orange peel. It is known for its refreshing and slightly tart taste, as well as its cloudy appearance due to the presence of suspended yeast and wheat proteins.
What classifies a beer as an ale?
A beer is classified as an ale if it is brewed with a type of yeast that ferments at warmer temperatures, typically between 60-75°F, and produces a fruity or spicy flavor profile. Ales also tend to have a more complex and robust flavor compared to lagers, which are brewed with a different type of yeast that ferments at cooler temperatures.