I do not think it means what you think it means. The immortal words of Inigo Montoya spring to mind after we taste our third American Pale Ale in Tasmania. The APA is an official style of the Beer Judge Certification Program, which summarizes an APA as “Refreshing and hoppy, yet with sufficient supporting malt”. MONA, Cascade, and James Squire all had APAs on draft, and we looked askance after tasting each. The hop aroma and flavour were certainly not as strong as an APA, and most had a peculiar flavour on the finish it took us a while to figure out…
Iron House Brewery is set in the White Sand Estate, and was the first brewpub we found in Tassie. Their lineup of a summer pale ale, blond, APA, porter, wit, and leatherwood honey porter was colorful, but would it taste good? The wit would be more properly termed a hefeweizen, and both porters had too strong of a dark caramel character for us to really enjoy. Their APA, though, caused both of us to be perplexed. We had found an APA brewed to style in Tasmania. So they obviously could get it right. The question was- why hadn’t all the others?
On the way from the east coast of Tasmania to Launceston is a tiny hamlet, with not much more than a gas station, a few homes, and a pub. The pub is the Weldborough Hotel, and it claims to have beer from every microbrewery in the state. We stayed overnight to allow us an opportunity to taste Van Dieman Brewing, Morrison Brewing, Pagan Cider, Willie Smith Cider, and Dickens Rose Cider. Van Dieman’s Land was the original name for Tasmania, named after Anthony van Dieman, the Governor-General of the Dutch East Indies who had dispatched Abel Tasman to explore Terra Australis in 1642. The Van Dieman Brewing company had a TPA on tap which the proprietor, Mark, said was a “Tasmanian Pale Ale”. After sampling, we shared an expression of wonder with each other. THIS was the flavour the “APA”s had, and we finally pegged it as a slight farmhouse character. But why would the Tasmanians brew such a beer preferentially, and still call it an APA? Might they not know any better? Or had something altered their palate in a global way?
Boag’s Brewing is the rival to Cascade Brewing. What Cascade is in the south of Tassie- centered in Hobart- Boag’s is to the north- centered in Launceston (pronounced lawn-sest-uhn). The last time we had visited, we decided that Cascade was our preference. Since then, Boag’s had made major inroads into the south, and we were surprised to find it on tap at nearly every pub in the state. On a visit to Boag’s “Centre for Beer Lovers”, we tried the light lager, XXX gold, draught, and Wizard’s. With the Draught and Wizard’s, the same slight farmhouse character was appreciated. It reminded us of cask ales that have gone a bit off, even slightly oxidized. We had found what we believe to be the explanation for the pale ale conundrum: Boag’s had a slight cask character, reminiscent of ‘real ales’, and Tasmanians had perceived that to be a component of pale ales. It explained the “APA”s we had sampled and the appropriately-labeled TPA.
The craft brew renaissance is still new to Tasmania, and the brewers are still trying to get their feet under them. This is similar to the US 20-30 years ago, when the first few craft brewers were trying to brew interesting beer that also appealed to the then-unrefined American palate, dulled by decades of light lagers. The pale ale in Tasmania seems to imitate a dominant beer style of the region (Boag’s Draught) in the same way American Pale Ale started by imitating the flavor of Miller/Budweiser/Coors lagers.