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  • Writer's pictureCalgary Brewery Tour Guy

YYCTOURS How to Judge Beer Tutorial - West Coast American Pale Ale

Updated: Nov 11, 2023

2023 Canadian Brewery Awards

North American Style Pale Ale

Gold - Eighty-Eight Brewing Co

Calgary, Alberta.

Hammer Pants

In this How to Judge Beer series, YYCTOURS continues break down the judging categories of the Calgary and Alberta brewery winners at the 2023 Canadian Brewery Awards and Conference, and shares what the judges might be looking for when they try to pick a winner.

A glass of Beer from Calgary brewery eighty eight- hammer pants APA, Canadian Gold Medal winner 2023

We have spoken often about the BJCP guidelines and how they are used to judge beer. One of the most important messages that the BJCP shares about the guidelines is that they are NOT rules that every competition must follow. Brewery contests such as the Canadian Brewing Awards are free to create their own style categories, and in the case of North American Style Pale Ale, have done just that. To learn more about the BJCP’s role in judging, please visit our community education page and check out our other judging tutorials.

Eighty-Eight’s 'Hammer Pants', which won an Alberta Brewery Awards gold in 2022 under the category “Pale Ale & Bitter” is advertised as a West Coast Pale Ale and recently won 2023 Canadian gold under the category North American Style Pale Ale. Although there is no such BJCP (judging) category in the guidelines for West Coast Pale Ale, nor for North American Style Pale Ale, there is one for American Pale Ale (18b.) and another for American IPA (21a.), which is the umbrella under which you would find West Coast IPA. So technically, we guess this beer would be a hybrid of an APA and WCIPA? Whatever it is, it keeps winning awards under any category.

The American Pale Ale by definition is a moderate to heavily hopped beer, whereas the West Coast IPA would be quite similar but even more heavily hopped. Here, with 88’s Hammer Pants, the hop aroma and flavour are not as dominant as you would expect from the words "West Coast," making it feel like it fits better under simply American Pale Ale and making it perfect for those that enjoy hoppy beers without going overboard.

So just for fun, to learn everything we can about judging this beer, we are going to provide the BJCP definitions for American Pale Ale and American IPA (West Coast) and see what we come up with.

As a refresher, when judging any beer, the judges are looking for: Overall Impressions (10pts), Aroma (12pts), Appearance (3pts), Flavour (20pts) and Mouthfeel (5pts).

The American Pale Ale is a modern American take on English Pale Ale, made with indigenous ingredients. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was first made in 1980 and helped popularize the style. The West Coast IPA is similar in style but with far more hops.

Overall Impressions

American Pale Ale is an average-strength, hop-forward, pale American craft beer with sufficient supporting malt to make the beer balanced and drinkable. The clean hop presence can reflect classic or modern American or New World hop varieties with a wide range of characteristics.

American IPA is a decidedly hoppy and bitter, moderately strong, pale American ale. The balance is hop-forward, with a clean fermentation profile, dry’ish’ finish, and clean, supporting malt allowing a creative range of hop character to shine through. Most often American IPA uses American hops.


American Pale Ale is a moderate to moderately-high hop aroma from American or New World hop varieties with a wide range of possible characteristics, including citrus, floral, pine, resin, spice, tropical fruit, stone fruit, berry, or melon. None of these specific characteristics are required, but a hoppy aroma should be apparent. Low to moderate neutral to grainy maltiness supports the hop presentation, and can show low amounts of specialty malt character (e.g., bread, toast, biscuit, caramel).

American IPA is a prominent to intense hop aroma often featuring American or New World hop characteristics, such as citrus, floral, pine, resin, spice, tropical fruit, stone fruit, berry, or melon. Low to medium-low clean, grainy maltiness supports the hop presentation. Generally clean fermentation profile, but light fruitiness is acceptable.


American Pale Ale is pale golden to amber. Moderately large white to off-white head with good retention. Generally quite clear.

American IPA has color ranging from medium gold to light reddish-amber. It is clear, but light haze allowable and has medium-sized, white to off-white head with good persistence.


American Pale Ale has hop and malt character similar to aroma (same intensities and descriptors apply). Caramel flavors are often absent or fairly restrained, but are acceptable as long as they don’t clash with the hops. Moderate to high bitterness. Clean fermentation profile. Fruity yeast esters can be moderate to none, although many hop varieties are quite fruity. Medium to dry finish. The balance is typically towards the late hops and bitterness; the malt presence should be supportive, not distracting. Hop flavor and bitterness often linger into the finish, but the aftertaste should generally be clean and not harsh.

American IPA is medium to very high hop flavor (same descriptors as aroma). Low to medium-low clean and grainy maltiness, possibly with light caramel and toast flavors. Medium-high to very high bitterness. Dry to medium-dry finish. Hoppy, bitter aftertaste with supportive malt. West Coast IPA will feature more hops.


American Pale Ale has a medium-light to medium body. Moderate to high carbonation. Overall smooth finish without astringency or harshness.

American IPA has a medium-light to medium body, with a smooth texture. Medium to medium-high carbonation. No harshness. Very light, smooth alcohol warmth optional.


American Pale Ale allows fruity esters, moderate strength and fresh dry hop aroma.

American IPA allows restrained alcohol , light fruitiness, haze and low esters.


American Pale Ale does not allow astringency or harshness.

American IPA does not allow Oak.

As one can see from the guidelines, the only real big difference in American Pale Ale and American IPA is the amount of hops which affect aroma, flavour and finish. In the case of Hammer Pants, it has a somewhat medium-high hop profile and is not decidedly hoppy, which we feel falls under 18b. American Pale Ale in the guidelines. It is crisp with a bit of pine and citrus. The beer is clear and finishes very clean with a hop character that isn't harsh and doesn't linger. Either way you look at it, this beer is fantastic just like most of the beers at 88.

If you have never been to 88, you should know it is one of the most awarded breweries in Alberta. It has two floors, two patios, is modelled after the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, has a great staff that are happy to be at work and has a really great food menu.


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