4 Pines are one of the best breweries in Sydney, hands down. And as you’d expect they are capable of serving up awesome and original concepts in beer form.
This, The Story of Pale Ale, charts the history of the modest pale ale (and India Pale Ale) in a beautiful and accessible limited release six pack.
Here they are, one by one…
The First Bastard – English IPA
- 47 IBU
- 6% ABV
So this is where it started. Well, sort of. You could make a case for Burton-on-Trent pale ales.
If a beer can be water-forward you’d look towards that traditional English pale and the Czech pilsner as the finest and most original examples.
The English IPA, however, kickstarts the modern interpretation of the pale ale/IPA we see today. It’s a solid dark, amber colour, with a creamy, frothy head. It tempts you in.
The aromas come from solid English style bittering hops but with a touch of lemon and some toffee malt undertones. It’s subtle, like a sweet leather smell.
The bitterness is fairly light for the style but the flavours are all there. Some grass and pine taste with a light tannin punch.
Tannins are often considered a bad thing but in this it reminds me of a strong English builders tea. It’s strong with but with the merest hint of that puckering bitterness.
The hops really let you know they’re there. The alcohol comes through too. In a word, you could describe it as “robust”.
The Second Bastard – American IPA
- 70 IBU
- 6.3% ABV
It’s a light amber colour with a foamy head, the suds of which stick around. Citrus fruits, mainly grapefruit, come through in the aroma. It has a really fresh, green hop smell.
It’s eminently quaffable. You could throw this back in big gulps but it’s boisterous enough to put up a fight in your mouth. It has character, a real American fighting spirit.
It has the kick-ass approach of a west coast IPAs The flavour profile is somewhere between the California and North-West IPAs that have made the style famous around the world.
It has that mega HOP punch, resinous sensation and biting finish on the palate. It’s dry on the tongue but silky on the throat.
It’s an exemplary interpretation of the style that has led the craft beer revolution.
Underneath is a gorgeous malty sweetness but the piney flavours come through stronger and stronger near the bottom of the glass. (A Spiegelau IPA glass for the nerds.)
The Third Bastard – New Zealand IPA
- 29 IBU
- 4.5% ABV
So fresh! For home brewers out there, it smells like when you throw your first lot of hops in.
That billowing, gorgeous, grassy, fruity smell. It’s the herbaceous, floral aroma, that comes through by the bucket load, that makes you know it’s real and natural .
It’s pale, like a pale ale should be (obviously). The head froths and builds in a very lively way.
You could say it charges up the glass like Jonah Lomu down the rugby field, but that’s as far as my knowledge of New Zealand sport goes (yes, decades out of date) so I’ll end the metaphor there.
It fizzes and bubbles and pops and then settles down to a comfortable bubbly white head. It looks lovely in a Spiegelau IPA glass.
The smell isn’t matched by the taste, but for once that isn’t a bad thing. Instead, a light bitterness and subtle grassy flavour come through.
It tastes organic, in the sense of real, living matter, not just that it lacks delicious pesticides.
I’m longing to visit New Zealand but this taste is how I imagine the country smells and feels. Natural, green, alive (but with a lingering bitterness toward pommy and Aussie cousins).
The bottle references the “broad spectrum of tropical fruit characters” and while I do get that in the aroma, I get much more grassy flavour.
It’s dry on your tongue but washes down with ease. It’s fairly low alcohol and there is no boozy taste at all. This is a beer you can inhale.
The Fourth Bastard – Australian Pale Ale
- 32 IBU
This is probably the style of beer which has driven the craft beer revolution in Australia.
It’s been around longer than most can remember in one form or another. It tastes malty sweet, without the rich husky flavours typically found in malty beers. It’s much more mild.
The liquid feels very thin in the mouth, light across the tongue and it goes down easily. The colour is very light and a little hazy. There’s little head retention.
Although I’m loath to use the phrase, it applies here: Don’t think too much, just enjoy it.
The hops could feel fresher and stronger but it’s a really good pale ale. In some ways, it’s a bit like the quintessential Aussie pale ale from Coopers.
Maybe that’s what was intended. If so, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was some of the inspiration for this beer, it’s pretty bang on.
I love Coopers Pale Ale. However, this beer makes me glad that 4 Pines stuck to their guns with their usual Pale Ale, which is well off the standard colour for a pale, but tastes incredible.
This beer is perfect for mowing the lawn or for an easy drink after work.
The Fifth Bastard – Belgian Pale Ale
- 19 IBU
- 5.6% ABV
Similiar to that rich Belgian golden ale aroma, it has those yeasty esters.
Typically banana and bubblegum (and it is evident) but there’s also a bit of spice. The colour is a lovely pale amber.
The off-white head froths nicely before settling to a layer of compact bubbles, with some richness to its complexion.
If you’ve tasted Belgian golden ales, you might be expected a boozy, sweet hit from the first sip but it’s delightful in its light bitterness.
It’s still a malty beer with genuine sweetness but the bittering hops have done their work well, albeit in a quiet and unassuming manner.
Very gentle on the palate and with a good body which sits beautifully on the tongue, it slides down effortlessly.
The copy on the bottle describes it perfectly. It’s less bitter than other varieties of pale ale, with “toasty malt sweetness” and a “refreshing spicy and fruity character” from the yeast.
It would be easy to quaff. You could sink a pint of it effortlessly but why would you? Pour it into a tulip glass and sip and savour it.
It’s a refreshing beer and it looks beautiful when it catches the light.
There’s a balance between the sweetness of the malt and the underlying bitterness inherited from its British cousin that’s distinct and delicious.
Sipping away at it you’ll notice how these aspects of the beer compete and play, mingling and mixing between taking a sip and enjoying the lingering flavours on your tongue.
It’s a beer that is triumphant but not showy. An ideal final bastard…
A Bastard No More – 4 Pines Pale Ale
I’ve written about this beer before. This, for 4 Pines at least, is what the story of Pale Ale has culminated in. And a glorious example it is too. I’ve said many times that it’s my go-to beer and for good reason.
It’s a little dark for a pale ale, and there’s a solid malt body to it. It came third in the 2014 Hottest 100 Australian beers. It’s no surprise really, as it’s become ubiquitous across the country and consistently impresses both in the bottle and on draught.
Check out my full post about it to find out more about why I love this beer so much.
A roaring success
Overall this Story of Pale Ale is a fantastic experiment and one which I hope we’ll see many more of from 4 Pines and other breweries.
It’s a wonderfully simple and effective idea which resonates with craft newbies and hardcore beer geeks alike.
Whether you’re just learning about how differently the modest pale ale can taste or whether you’re revelling in your love of beer history, The Story of Pale Ale hits the spot – in more ways than one.
Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts about this 4 Pines six pack and whether you’d like to see more limited releases like this from Sydney breweries.
Or check out another mega review of Stone & Wood’s Beers of the Earth six pack which was released around the same time.