Out in Seattle a few weeks ago, Shaun and I got to talking about the resurgence of the pale ale. In the late 90's, early 00's, there were a bunch of pale ales floating around, mostly in bottles, but also on a few taps and at brewpubs. As I recall, Cincinnati, my then hometown, made a couple of decent ones at its brew pubs. Then the IPA started making its way out of its pockets of cultivation out west and wiped pale ales off the map. Those that were made became boring or at least seemed that way. That has changed.
The pale ale has made a comeback with a slew of outstanding ones popping up, featuring bold fresh hops, a more interesting and fresher malt profile, and bright carbonation. Coronado Brewing stepped up its Four Brothers Pale Ale. Victory is winning with its Headwaters Pale Ale. Summit's 25th Anniversary Ale is sensational. The leader of the pack, not surprisingly, is Three Floyds with its Zombie Dust.
Described as a single hop pale ale, Zombie Dust drives home the potential greatness and the unique place occupied by pale ales as well as can be done. Beyond its strong carbonation and faint, pale amber color, it hits you up front with a sharp, crisp bite of hops and a carbonated punch. It really sears the palate, demanding immediate notice. Like any great pale ale, the momentary citrus-forward bite yields to a a bit to a more subtle malt backbone; but with this one, citrus and pine flavors linger on the palate. That's exactly what makes this a true winner. The flavor keeps coming. But unlike Sierra's ubiquitous Pale Ale, Zombie Dust is more complex as it lingers on the palate thanks to a cleverly lain bed of malt.
This is a great departure from the IPA for the hop fiends, as IPA's are weightier due to their heavier reliance on malts, and the hops can be a bit suffocating and overly resiny. Their larger alcohol profiles are often limiting as well in terms of one's enjoyment and can quickly leave one besotted. Zombie Dust starts sharp, finishes clean, and is only modestly boozy by Three Floyds standards.
Bottom line: this is exceptionally done. It's also far more sessionable than its hopped up cousin, Alpha King, while itself an elite beer, needs too much handling with care and is just not an all-afternoon go to beer. Zombie Dust is going to be my tailgate beer in South Bend this weekend, I assure you. The denizens of Notre Dame's hometown will be left pining for it.
4.6 of 5 stars. Genre defining.