CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- All too often, beer drinkers buy into the narrative that only ice-cold macro swill can refresh a thirsty palate when the mercury rises. Surely that's a myth that has been drilled into our brains by the macro-beer brewers.
Take a moment, though, and think about all of the great elixirs throughout history that have nursed mankind through many hot days: gin and tonic, Campari, mint julep and mojito, just to name a few.
These drinks have one recurring quality that makes them historic thirst-quenchers. It's their herbal and bitter qualities. Tonic water containing bitter quinine mixed with herb-infused gin served with lime or the pungent saffronlike taste of Campari or the tongue-tingling sensation delivered by the ubiquitous peppermint leaf; thirst-quenching indeed.
The beer world is no stranger to herbal and even minty infusions in the brewing process. We call them hops! Nearly every beer contains some variety and various amounts of hops.
Ironically, the ice-cold macro brews use very little hops and rely on basic qualities like "cold" and "wet" for thirst-quenching power. Hardly a match for the complexity and true thirst-quenching power of herbal elixirs.
One of the best general beer styles to show off the thirst-quenching power of the venerable hop plant is the pale ale. Though they come in many varieties and sub-styles, pale ales rely on the balance of sweeter malts and the bitterness of hops to quench even the biggest of thirsts.
Hops impart distinct bitters qualities as well as much more floral and herbal flavors to the beer depending on the hop variety and how they are infused. Some hop bitterness can come across as resinlike or a more mild tanninlike bitterness, and some of the herbal qualities can be spicy or tealike and even citrus.
Pale ales actually taste more balanced when they are not chilled to near freezing, making them hold up better unlike those few last gulps from that warm, nasty-tasting can or bottle of macro swill; It's still wet but not so cold!