There is nothing like the hoppiness of a good pale ale. When brewed right, the citrus and piney bitterness of the hops dance above the glass. Those floral aromas just bring a smile when you're in the mood for a bitter beer. Happy Heron Pale Ale is the version made by Central Waters Brewing. If herons had lips, this beer would make them grin.
What is it? Happy Heron Pale Ale from Central Waters Brewing Company of Amherst, Wis.
Style: The pale ale is known for its firm, yet medium- to high-hop bitterness in flavor and aroma. It is a medium-bodied beer. English pale ales often have an herbal hop character in the bitterness and aroma, while American versions are more known for a citrus or resiny character, along with some maltiness that is subdued to toasty or biscuity tones. Pale ales commonly range from 4.5% to 5.5% ABV. Happy Heron is made in the spirit of the American pale ale.
Background: Happy Heron Pale Ale is considered the flagship beer of Central Waters. It has been offered by the brewery for over 13 years, and brewer Paul Graham says that with the exception of the first year, the recipe hasn't changed. He makes it with Centennial and Cascade hops, with much of the beer's citrus aroma comes from the latter. From the beginning, Graham says he's always strived for some balance with his pale ale. Drinkers get some of that balance in malt flavor and body from additions of caramel malt.
Happy Heron is a year-round brew that's easily found in Madison on draught or in six-packs for around $9. It takes about three weeks to make and it finishes at just over 5% ABV.
Later this summer, Central Waters will be rolling out the first major additions to its sour-barrel aged beers. Graham and his partner, Anello Mollica, have been working for nearly four years on a new line of brews based on various Belgian styles and aged in oak barrels. In July, they plan to release Exodus, a Flanders Red type of beer that has been in the oak barrel for nearly a year. It'll appear in 750 ml bottles, sealed with a cork.
- Aroma: Light citrus notes.
- Appearance: Hazy golden color with a thick soft white head.
- Texture: Medium bodied and sharp.
- Taste: Strong bitter beginning with a grainy, bready background.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Ends with a lingering bitterness, almost a burst of residual hoppiness. Finishes strong.
Glassware: Happy Heron has enough citrus hoppy nose that it will stand up to the standard bar pint glass, which also shows off its bright golden body.
Pairs well with: The pale ale is a pretty versatile beer because of its snappy bitterness; it's a good palate cleanser for moderately spicy foods. Happy Heron is a nice beer with brats, pork chops or grilled veggies. It can handle some spiciness, making it a nice companion to Mexican dishes.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: Happy Heron has an assertive bitterness that comes on strong in the beginning with its aromatics, and returns in the finish with dryness. However, a bready, lightly vegetal middle seems just a little out of place. Despite that, it's a nice pale ale with lots of floral hoppy aroma and bitterness. The lingering dryness in the finish is quite memorable.
Overall, I appreciate Happy Heron most as a meal beer that will complement without overshadowing the food. There's enough hoppy bitterness to blend nicely with mildly spicy dishes, fried meats or entrees with a light amount of char-grilled flavor. My smile may not be from ear-to-ear; still, I'm grinning with the contented herons over this beer.