An Extra Pale Ale isn’t a recognized style category, so the term is open to interpretation. Some brewers use the term for an Imperial Ale, which doesn’t quite fit stylistically into either the Pale Ale or IPA category, or just for an incredibly hoppy Pale Ale that has the body of a Pale Ale but the taste characteristics of an IPA. On the other hand, brewers have used the term for Ales lighter colored and lighter bodied than Pale Ales that still have good hop presence.
The Extra Pale Ale, also referred to as XPA, Session IPA, Strong Pale Ale, and Hoppy Pale Ale, is a beer style that originated about 5 or so years ago. Simply put, the beer is a twist on the traditional American Pale Ale, and falls somewhere between a Pale Ale and an India Pale Ale (IPA) in terms of hop bitterness, aroma, and profile, as well as alcohol content.
Extra Pale Ales are generally bugger than American Pale Ales, but gentler than an IPA. Although comparable to both, most often the Extra Pale Ale is added to the American Pale Ale beer style category. As for alcohol content, Extra Pale Ales usually range from 5-6% which makes sense, since APA's typically range from 4-5% and IPA's typically fall in the 6-7% range.
The Extra Pale Ale has a color that can range from pale golden to deep amber and has a moderately large white to off white head with good retention. The ale is generally medium bodied, refreshing, and clear although dry hopped hazier versions exist. Hops is the key ingredient to an Extra Pale Ale, although it does have a sufficient supporting malt character.
So why the name Extra in front of Pale Ale? In American craft beer circles, the term Extra is mostly seen and used for marketing purposes. Some believe the Extra part of the beer name has to do with the extra pale color, extra flavor, or extra aroma. So I guess the reason and interpretation for the beers style name is up to the imagination of the beer drinker.
Each brewery and beer maker has their own interpretation of the style and produce unique tasty beers that all generally follow the same guidelines. One of the best Extra Pale Ales that generates a great deal of hype is Sweetwater Brewing Company’s 420 Extra Pale Ale. The beer has a 5.7% ABV and is their most popular brew. It’s a tasty West Coast style Extra Pale Ale that has an abundance of hops influence due to being dry hopped with a huge stash of Cascade hops. It was first produced on 4/20, hence the name.
So after all of this what is an Extra Pale Ale vs. a Pale Ale? The answer is that it is a crossbreed of many of the existing Pale Ales that each brewer can spice up as they please. In general a strong hop presence is continuously seen, just as it is in many Pale Ale styles.
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