If you keep a keen interest in developments surrounding the beer world, you would have heard the style ‘XPA’ thrown about a lot over the last few years. XPA stands for Extra Pale Ale, and as their name suggests, they are pale ales that have the X Factor! XPAs don’t fit into either the India Pale Ale (IPA) or American Pale Ale categories (APA). They’re in a league of their own, generally offering a beer that is hop forward and flavoursome, whilst (usually) being lighter in alcohol content. This makes XPAs extremely sessionable, and suitable to drink over an extended period.
If you’re eager to learn more, we’ve created a guide to XPA beer to help you understand the basics.
What is XPA beer?
Extra Pale Ale, or XPA, remains a little vague by definition, and divides amateur and professional brewers alike due to its lack of straightforward categorisation and widely disparate commercial interpretations. Nevertheless, they’re hoppy and snappy and will undeniably quench your thirst. XPAs are great for a day at the beach or a night at the pub, and they’re favourites of both beer rookies and craft beer aficionados.
XPA beers are a cross between an American Pale Ale (normal strength, hop forward, but enough maltiness to remain balanced and easy to drink) and an India Pale Ale (brazenly bitter, assertively hopped, and higher in alcohol). However, with the introduction of Strong Pale Ales and Session IPAs to the market, the lines are blurred, resulting in significant overlaps and uncertainty that even experienced beer judges – and drinkers – struggle to resolve.
So, what exactly is “Extra”?
What constitutes the “extra” in an XPA beer is up to the brewer, whether it’s simply extra pale in colour, extra light in body or alcohol content, or whatever extra special they add to a typical pale ale, such as hops. Some suggest that the name is a play on the “X,” formerly used to signify the strength of the contents of British ale barrels.
XPAs can be described as an American adaption of an English pale ale. Generally, XPAs are lighter in colour, cleaner in fermentation by-products, and have fewer caramel flavours. The style made its appearance in the craft brewing scene in Oregon in 2008. The “X” stood for experimental – as new varieties of hops were being experimented with in the brewing process. Over time, the “X” changed to stand for extra – to support an extra pale malt appearance and extra hops being added to new brewing recipes. XPAs made it to the Australian brewing scene in late 2014 and have become increasingly popular, with many breweries around the country releasing their own.
Most XPAs will have a gentle, bready malt character, delivering a balanced flavour that is neither overly heavy nor too light. Classic West Coast citrusy hops lend brightness and balance to the brew, while peppery, almost Belgian phenolic yeast adds a distinct flavour, that X factor. Low to moderate maltiness complements the hop presentation, and XPAs may include trace levels of speciality malt flavour (bready, toasty, biscuity).
Some extreme ‘extra’ pale ales have a wheaty tartness that adds depth to the beer. In addition, you can find floral hop flavour, pineapple, peach, and cranberry overtones. XPAs are well-balanced and delicious – the average beer drinker will be able to appreciate them.
XPA beers will vary in colour from pale gold to deep amber. Although dry-hopped versions may be slightly cloudy, the beer is often extremely clear.
What should you anticipate?
Great question! As the guidelines for XPA beer are so open, it’s hard to determine what each brewer’s interpretation for the style of beer will be! This doesn’t mean there aren’t any patterns among XPAs. It’s still a pale ale, so don’t expect a completely different beverage.
An XPA should be lighter than most IPAs, so expect less bitterness, hoppiness, and usually less alcohol. Instead of resinous, dank, or spicy hops, anticipate fruity hops with citrus zing and tropical undertones. And they’re usually very approachable and easy to drink – it’s difficult to stop at just one!
What Is the Distinction Between Pale Ale and Extra Pale Ale?
A Pale Ale is a beer that has pale malt. The pale malt used when brewing gives the beer a lighter tint than other types of beer, hence the name.
An Extra Pale Ale is a beer style similar to a Pale Ale. An Extra Pale Ale has a larger amount of pale malt than a conventional Pale Ale, which gives the beer a paler, brighter colour and crisper flavour. Extra Pale Ales usually have more hop bitterness standard Pale Ales.
What Is the Distinction Between an IPA and an XPA Beer?
IPA beers are well-known for their bitterness and intensity of flavour, and XPA beers are generally known to be less bitter and more balanced. This is not to say all IPAs are bitter, and all XPA beers are well balanced; there is a lot of variances within each type, but it is a good starting point to understand the differences between the two.
Brewers make several beer styles by varying the types and amounts of hops, malt, yeast, and water. IPAs are typically hoppier, whereas XPA beers strive to be a more well-rounded, less intense beer.
One thing that makes the XPAs so appealing is that many independent brewers embrace the style and add their own ‘Extra’ touch. A strong and sustainable independent beer market is critical for the beer category as a whole. XPA consumers increasingly recognise and understand independent breweries, and engage with the beers they create and release.
At Prancing Pony Brewery, we make our XPA lower in alcohol content compared to our other pale ales. This sessionable brew is perfect for long, warm afternoons. Our XPA is medium in body, fruity and refreshing. Try it for yourself, order our XPA beer today.