Judging Beers – Sea Change Pale Ale by Jack Van Paepeghem


Photo by PoPville flickr user ekelly80

Jack Van Paepeghem works at Meridian Pint and is a Certified Cicerone® You can read his previous post about travels in Germany and Belgium here.

Sea Change is not a political statement. It is about beer. Sea Change Pale Ale is the latest addition to the 3 Stars Brewing Company’s flagship lineup and its inauguration is today. Sea Change is about the turning of the tides: the transformation of a wrecked auto body shop into an artisanal craft brewery. Sea Change is the evolution of homebrewers to full time brewmasters. The beer is not about Tom Selleck as a lush of a cop and the reopening of a homicide case, but of a super fresh and local American pale ale.

The pale ale was originally a British creation which broke out after maltsters nailed down the formula for indirectly kilning partially germinated barley to a point where it was pale, rather than dark and smoked or crystalized. This means that the barley, now transformed to malt, still maintained much of its sweet and sugary capacity while still being lighter in body and color when made into beer. Breweries like Bass and Fullers released the most popularized versions of the pale ale and defined the style. American homebrewers sought to recreate this beer using local malts and hops and a new style was born.

The first batch of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was released on November 15, 1980 in Chico, California. While the beer uses perle and magnum hops for bittering, the emphasis is on the cascade hops used towards the end of the boil which delivers the huge piney, grapefruit, and floral character which has come to define American hop varietals. Coupled with an aggressive yeast which dries the beer out and two-row pale and caramel malts, Sierra Nevada finishes clean and drinkable for having a 5.6% ABV. SNPA became ubiquitous through the 80’s and 90’s and can be found in all 50 states and even overseas. The problem is that because of massive distribution, it is easy for retailers and bar accounts to let it sit in dirty draft lines and unknowing customers won’t say a thing.

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American Pale Ales demand freshness, and sometimes this isn’t too easy to determine. Some breweries use cryptic codes on their bottles which outline a “best before” date while some just plain refuse to mark anything about when a beer was brewed. While the ideal shelf life of a bottle of beer is up to 6 months, hop forward beers are always best when consumed young. Over time bitterness and the upfront aroma recede and the defining characteristics of the beer fade away. Draft beer on the other hand tends to be fresher and must be consumed within 90 to 120 days if pasteurized and 45 to 60 days if not pasteurized. You are paying for the beer and you have the right to know how fresh your beer is; if skeptical, don’t be afraid to ask or look for a bottling date before purchasing a beer. If you really want to know how breweries mark their beers on the bottling line, the website  Fresh Beer Only has the codes for as many breweries as possible.

3 Stars Sea Change Pale Ale rings in at 6.9% ABV, slightly high for the style, but it drinks like a 5% pale ale. Made with Fresh cascade and centennial hops early on the in boil and finished with zythos hops, a newer proprietary blend, this beer is bright with citrus, tangerine, grapefruit, slight pine and floral flavors and aromas. The malt is light and subtly sweet, bready and biscuit. The goal for this beer, as Co-owner and brewer Dave Coleman tells me, was not to be a huge bitterness bomb, but something more approachable for those looking to delve into more hop-forward beers who would otherwise be turned off by bitterness. The Sea Change is also a complement to the other higher gravity and more aggressive beers in their lineup like Pandemic Porter and Southern Belle Brown Ale. This is a lighter more drinkable reprieve without being weak at heart.

Sea Change is pouring tonight for the first time ever in D.C. at Meridian Pint alongside the rest of the 3 Stars lineup including two casks of Southern Belle Brown Ale. Meet Mike and Dave and the rest of the 3 Stars Crew and bonus points if you bring your best Tom Selleck stache.

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