Port City Brewing, based out of Alexandria, VA (right next to Washington, DC for those not from the area), is the very model of a reliable, simple brewery. It doesn’t go crazy or try to show off. They offer five flagship beers year-round as well as a few seasonal and one-offs – and they are all genuinely solid beers. Would I call any of them exceptional? No. But if I want a pale ale or a porter that’s going to be a sure thing, I know that I can turn to Port City.
Essential Pale Ale is an American Pale Ale and not an IPA (APAs have a relatively even hops-to-light-malt ratio while IPAs are happier by nature) and does reflect that style well. This is a mild beer that still packs a punch of flavor, but doesn’t overwhelm the palate. It’s a great pairing with almost any food.
This beer pours a slightly hazy honey gold with a short white head that fades and leaves a little lacing behind. The smell is yeasty and maybe with a little citrus – it is balanced and inviting to me. At first taste, it is very mild. Almost more like a pilsner than what I think of as a pale ale. Not much bite, not much in the way of strong hop or malt flavors, and not really sweet, either. It’s pleasantly bready with just a hint of sweetness.
Based on everything I’ve just written, this beer sounds… bland. But it’s not! While mild in nature, it is really very flavorful. It’s balanced, as a pale ale should be, and it never relies on a hoppy punch in the face as many IPAs do. I recommend it highly, especially if you’re scarfing down a easy burger or other American comfort food.