When we attribute one beer style to one person, that usually holds weight.

German brewer Josef Groll is primarily known for traveling to Pilsen, Czech Republic, bringing a bottom-fermenting yeast that, combined with Pilsen’s soft water, would create the pilsner.

When Ken Grossman released Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in the late 1980s, he started the era of the American pale ale, an iteration of the English one that heavily featured caramel or crystal malt and one particular American hop: Cascade.

As we’ve featured in the past, Birrificio Italiano Founder and Brewer Agostini Arioli created the Italian pilsner when attempts to make a Northern German-style pils went awry and he added a dry hop.

Even more recently, we credit former Wayfinder Brewmaster Kevin Davey with inventing the Cold IPA.

So why haven’t we heard more about Scotty Hargrave and XPA, extra pale ale, a style that has absolutely exploded in Australia?

It could be that those pesky 9,204 miles separate our two countries, but that hasn’t stopped hops such as Galaxy, Vic Secret, and Enigma from making their way to our shores.

Perhaps it’s because, for so long, another three-letter acronym has dominated: IPA.

Whatever the exact reason, XPA has finally made it to the States with brewers up and down the West Coast trying their hand at this lower-ABV, yet still hop-forward, style that’s absolutely crushable and crushing it.

I Call It an XPA

balter brewing xpa head brewer scotty hargrave
Photography courtesy of Balter Brewing

In the early 2010s, Hargrave asked himself: “Is there a way I can have saturated hop flavor in a sessionable beer?”

For the past five years, Hargrave had brewed at Stone & Wood Brewing Co., which is famous for a beer called Pacific Ale that uses Galaxy (surprise, surprise).

“At one point in time, I probably personally threw more Galaxy in more dry-hop tanks than anybody else on the planet,” laughs the fully bearded, cherubic Hargrave.

When the Australian brewer moved to Byron Bay Brewing Company in 2013, “I was sort of over the whole Galaxy thing,” Hargrave told me over Zoom.

Still homebrewing on the side, Hargrave experimented with American hops, such as Citra and Mosaic.

“It used to be a bit of a joke, like, here’s Scotty the dickhead making 50,000 liters of beer during the week [and] going home and making 50 liters of beer on a Saturday in his garage,” explains Hargrave.

On his weekends, Hargrave played around with making a sessionable beer that showed off tropical, new-world American varieties. He wanted a juicy, hop-forward beer that wasn’t a 7% ABV IPA.

“I wanted to showcase these vibrant, tropical, and new-world hop characters without the beer having to be huge,” he says. “I wanted that hop saturation of an IPA and the enjoyment of those flavors but balance and sessionable alcohol.”

After progressing through fifteen to twenty different iterations over a few years, he thought he had something.

“I got it to the point where the beer was basically looking for a home,” shares Hargrave, who fortuitously got a phone call asking him to be a part of a new startup brewery about forty-five miles north—Balter Brewing.

After accepting the job, Balter’s co-founders had one question for Hargrave: You got any idea what our first beer might be?

Turns out, he had the perfect little beer.

“What is it?” Hargrave says they asked. “Well, I call it an XPA.”

What the Hell Is an XPA?

capital brewing co xpa
Photography courtesy of Capital Brewing Co.

It’s a good question and one that, honestly, people in Australia still ask today.

“What the f**k is XPA?” Capital Brewing Head Brewer Wade Hurley asked himself when he first moved from Southern California to Fyshwick, Australia.

“If you ask any brewer what an XPA is in Australia, they’ll just be like it’s somewhere between a pale ale and IPA,” he says. “If you look it up, there’s no BJCP guideline. For XPA, you can kind of make it whatever you want.”

Hargrave explains, “For me, it was always about extra pale comma ale. It was always about having a beer that had a lean but structured malt base that could handle all of those hops and deliver the balance and drinkability, but all the hop flavor in that five-ish percent alcohol range.”

A pretty paradoxical style, XPA, for the most part, comes close to a pale ale but will be lighter in color thanks to a heavy dose of pale malt. It will also be higher in bitterness, yet more drinkable, and lower in alcohol.

Pfriem Co-Founder and Brewmaster Josh Pfriem has made the Oregon-based brewery’s Extra Pale Ale for the last eight years. He was the only American brewer we talked to who didn’t appear to make his version based on any Australian influence. Although he, too, finds the style hard to put a finger on, his definition comes pretty close to Hargrave’s. “We wanted a lean base but not go straight to pale because we wanted a supportive alcohol and malt presence behind it so that it wouldn’t go thin, but you could throw a ton of hops and really see the hops lift,” says Pfriem, noting his version went back to a simple pale ale base that they didn’t want to define as an IPA.

“XPA is a mysterious sector of craft beer,” says Humble Sea Co-Founder and Director of Brewing Operations Nick Pavlina, who brewed an XPA collab with Firestone Walker after he traveled to Australia for the hop harvest last year.

Pavlina and Firestone Walker Brewmaster Matt Brynildson found the style dominated. Every brewery they visited had an XPA or two, and they drank them all. “I’d never seen so many XPAs all at once!” shares Pavlina.

But they weren’t entirely sure how to define style.

“What the hell!?” Pavlina remembers thinking on morning runs as the two tried to unpack the style’s layers (and burn off all the ones they drank the night before!). “Our consensus was extra pale in color, so not quite as malt-driven as traditional pale ale, but also a little leaner than an IPA, so it’s kind of right in line between session IPA, pale ale, and IPA.”

You can see how this almost Goldilocks style perplexed Pavlina and Brynildson—they had to “eat a lot of porridges” to find the right definition.

“If I were asked how to define XPA, a true Australian XPA should have an ABV of five or less, really light in body, like an American pale ale,” says Brynildson. “It should be somewhere on the lighter end, but probably not a lot of specialty malt. It should be pretty dry.”

While the definition of XPA may elusively shimmer like an Australian heat wave, one thing where everyone now agrees: “XPA dominates over there,” says Pavlina.

The Rise of XPA Down Under

capital brewing co. xpa
Photography courtesy of Capital Brewing Co.

Let’s be clear: Hargrave emphasizes that he didn’t invent the term XPA. This style existed before 2015 when Hargrave first pitched a commercial-sized run of his homebrewed creation.

According to Hargrave, few other versions existed in Australia then, but all were more copper colored and closer to the 6% ABV range. “I’d say they were more like a 1990s or early 2000s version of an American strong pale ale,” he says.

They’d probably be similar to versions marked as extra pale ale in the States, too.

For instance, when Mark Stutrud started Summit Brewery in St. Paul, MN, in 1986, he had a flagship beer called Summit Extra Pale Ale.

Similarly, SweetWater’s flagship 420 Extra Pale Ale has been around since 1997.

“Pale ale used to have a bigger place in craft,” notes Josh. “How can we express more of our love for pales rather than call everything IPA? How can we play in this middle ground?”

Seems like XPA is the answer, but while both of those aforementioned beers (and others) have succeeded in their own right, the style has yet to catch fire in the States.

“We had them here in the States, but they weren’t super popular,” says Pavlina. “People gravitate towards pale or West Coast IPA.”

But in Australia?

Well, that’s certainly a different story.

Pavlina brings up a good point: In Australia, brewers are taxed for the alcohol content of their beers. Something we don’t need to worry about in the U.S.

“Making a 7% ABV IPA isn’t a big deal for us, but it is for them,” says Pavlina. “They’re taxed on alcohol volume, so low-ABV beers are a common reason why XPA is so popular over there.”

A lower-ABV, full-flavored ale makes practical sense.

Hurley explains, “If you make an 11% ABV stout, you’re paying so much excise tax on it that the customer will have to pay for that when they buy it through the bar, and they don’t want to spend $20 on a pint.”

Hargrave doesn’t have all the answers, but he feels that Australia’s climate also suits this beer style. “We’re subtropical. People often compare this part of the world to San Diego,” he says. “[XPA] is lean but fully structured and has all these great hop flavors and balance that just seems to work really well in this climate.”

Having lived in Australia for eight years, Hurley agrees, saying, “Most places in Australia are hot and humid, so they like beachy kind of beers.”

Much like Australia lies in a totally different plane of the world, Hargrave’s version of an XPA flipped that more American pale ale and even older extra pale ale versions on their head.

To him, it almost seemed too good to be true.

Fluke or Fortune

When he first brewed his XPA recipe at Balter, “I just thought I’d fluked it the first time,” he recalls. “I thought it was f**king great, but like all brewers, you want consistency, so I brewed it again and again and again, and it was the same beer.” After running through the recipe eight more times, Hargrave realized that his recipe was “almost bomb-proof.”

He even tried subbing in other hops like Simcoe, finding the beer didn’t drink the same. “I thought if I could swap out hops, maybe it wasn’t that distinct or special, but when I did that, it changed the beer,” he explains. “It didn’t have the magic about it, didn’t have the razzle-dazzle.”

Following the same train of thought, he changed around the malt bill, too. “If it’s interchangeable, it’s probably just another nice generic pale ale,” he remembers thinking. “But as it turns out, changing things like that actually did make a real difference.”

So Hargrave went back to the original recipe. “There it was, and it was just that beer again.”

Like coming home.

But despite all his experiments, Hargrave still had doubts.

“In my mind, I had this defense already written out: This beer is like the Alice In Chains album ‘Dirt,’ right? It might seem a bit jarring up front, but once it gets under your skin, it’s amazing and beautiful … and the next thing you know, you won’t be able to live without it.”

The first weekend after Balter opened on March 8, 2016, they released fifty-five kegs of Balter XPA locally and to venues around the Gold Coast.

“The funny thing was … they drank all the kegs that weekend!” says a smiling Hargrave, who had a rough couple of weeks after the opening, ripping through brew days of XPA.

Each time he made more, they instantly sold out.

“It just took off, and basically, we haven’t gotten a breather since,” says Hargrave. “People took to that beer.”

And not just consumers. but industry folk, too.

“It was wildly popular when Balter put it out,” Hurley remembers. “Every other brewery just jumped on the bandwagon, thinking they needed to do their own version.”

balter brewing xpa head brewery scotty hargrave
Photography courtesy of Balter Brewing

Hargrave remembers traveling to Brisbane about four months after Balter opened to judge some beer for the Independent Brewers Association.

“I walked into this hotel, and a whole bunch of my mates—brewers and peers—all had XPA cans,” he remembers. “They were all shoving them in my face, [saying] …’This beer is amazing!’”

Hargrave could only respond with a humble thank you.

Similarly, at a beer festival in Australia about eighteen months after he first released Balter XPA, Hargrave met the national marketing manager from Coopers, like the Molson Coors of Australia.

Hargrave asked him what was new. “He just had this funny look on his face and went, ‘We just released a new beer…it’s an XPA,” laughs Hargrave. “He looked down at the ground and goes, ‘Sorry, it’s not as good as yours,’ and slunk off!”

The soft-spoken brewer has story after story like this.

At one point, he recalls walking into one of the largest liquor retailers in the country and finding an entire shelf designated to XPA. “Shit, this really is a thing,” Hargrave remembers thinking. “It’s crazy and amazing.”

He never realized that his original recipe would stand the test of time.

“I think what happened with XPA is that it was a beer … you could get as much or as little out of it as you wanted,” he explains. “It could just be a great 5% [ABV] pale ale that you don’t have to think about too much. Or, if you wanted, you could take your time over a pint and dig a little deeper.”

Cloudburst Brewing Founder and Head Brewer Steve Luke likens Balter XPA to Allagash White. “You can dork out forever on how perfect that beer is, or you can turn everything off, just drink that beer, and enjoy it without any thought going through your head,” he says. “XPA is along those same lines.”

A beer that worked on so many different levels, XPA has certainly lit a fire under a bunch of Australian brewers’ bums.

And now, this perplexingly complex or deceivingly simple style has made it to the States’ shores.

XPA Makes Its Way to the States

firestone walker brewing company firestone xpa
Photography courtesy of Firestone Walker Brewing Company

Back in February, I chatted with Brynildson for a piece we were writing on the brewery’s new Mind Haze variants. We get to shooting the sh*t, and he tells me about a beer he’s even more excited about in 2024: Firestone XPA.

“That’s probably the beer I’m going to drink the most of in 2024 next to Pivo,” he told me.

Like Pavlina, the Firestone Walker Brewmaster’s trip to Australia for the Southern Hemisphere hop harvest opened his eyes.

“We were drinking so much XPA and fell in love with the style,” he recounted. “We were just scratching our heads asking why XPA had not become a thing [in the U.S.]”

When the two returned to the States, they made one together, Fog Adjacent (a reference, Pavlina says, to the brewery’s “Foggy IPA” series and to the haze-adjacent ones they noticed in Australia).

And if the trickle-down effect is real, that’s how I discovered XPA, sitting in Humble Sea’s Pacifica taproom on a gray New Year’s Eve afternoon. While my wife surfed, I pulled up to one of my favorite breweries with a good book, excited to try something new.

Fog Adjacent immediately jumped out to me on the menu: an XPA with Citra, Galaxy, and HBC 1019.

I loved the beer but had yet to learn what an XPA was. I’d rarely seen a style like that in the States. Again, my reference points fell to Summit Extra Pale Ale and 420 Extra Pale Ale.

But Fog Adjacent was utterly different. It had the bone structure of an American pale ale but quickly veered fruitier and more drinkable.

As I investigated, I noticed a trend: In the last few years, more breweries have been releasing their own versions up and down the West Coast.

All the big names, such as Burgeon Beer, Cloudburst, Green Cheek, Craft Coast, Humble Sea, and now, as Brynildson teased to me, Firestone Walker.

What do they all have in common?

Burgeon Co-Founder and Head Brewer Anthony Tallman is good friends with Hargrave; they brewed an XPA together at the brewery’s Carlsbad, CA, location.

After meeting him at a barbecue during a U.S. hop harvest in Yakima, Cloudburst’s Luke made a beer with Hargrave.

“Scotty’s just spreading the gospel,” Luke told me, noting that after he tried Balter XPA, he thought, “It’s a beer that a lot of brewers are searching for—hop flavor, but dry, low ABV, well-balanced, fruity, but not over the top.”

Whenever Hargrave visits Craft Coast in Oceanside, CA, he says head brewer and co-founder Blake Masoner asks if they can make an XPA again. “He seems to always have an XPA on the wall now,” says Hargrave.

When Hargrave travels to American beer festivals like the Firestone Walker Invitational in Paso Robles, CA, he brings Balter XPA. “People will come up, like Jeff Bagby, [owner of former Bagby Beer], and go, ‘I could f**king drink this all day!’” laughs Hargrave. “I’m bamboozled that you guys haven’t cottoned on to this.”

But, as Luke says, he’s slowly spreading the gospel, traveling up and down the West Coast showing brewers how he makes XPA.

What Are the Secrets to Making an XPA?

burgeon beer company tinnies xpa
Photography courtesy of Burgeon Beer Company

Hargrave says the key to making his XPA lies in the layers.

Instead of a “big whack [of hops] up front and then as many hops as you can throw into the whirlpool,” says Hargrave, who has found this to be a pretty standard American approach to brewing hoppy beer amongst the breweries he’s visited. “I don’t just throw all the hops in at the front and the back. … I layer hops in this beer and spread things out.”

Hargrave calls this approach, much like a chef seasoning soup, a big part of the success of Balter XPA.

“You do a bit here and a bit here and a bit here,” Hargrave says, noting that his homestyle approach to hopping has been met with wide-eyed panic.

“It was pretty funny to see those guys have their grip so tight on what they’ve always done,” he says. “It’s like, just let go of the rope; you’ll be alright. We’re just going to jump off the building. It’s not as far as you think, so just follow.”

Tallman, who met Hargrave through Blake at Craft Coast (whose simply named XPA picked up a bronze at the 2024 World Beer Cup), brewed an XPA together in September 2023 called Tinnies (an Australian colloquialism for a can of beer). He says the biggest, and simultaneously hardest, thing Hargrave taught him was hop layering.

“It was almost like Scotty had to break down these traditional processes and viewpoints,” shares Tallman, who admits he was more surprised than skeptical. “It doesn’t only have to be a sixty-minute and late boil. … We’re literally put a half pound in this addition, so will it really matter?”

Turns out it does.

With Tinnies, Tallman mash hopped with Riwaka before adding a first wort hop addition, a bittering one at the beginning of the boil, and a mid-late one of Strata, Mosaic Cryo, Riwaka, and Simcoe. Another addition in the whirlpool of Strata and Mosaic Cryo, and then splitting a dry hop into two stages of Riwaka and HBC 586 first, followed by one Strata and Mosaic Cryo again.

Tallman says that, particularly in the whirlpool, where they’d typically add big doses of hops for hoppy beers, Hargrave told them to go small.

“I’d say our average whirlpool volume … with something West Coast-ish with clean fermentation is usually 16.5 pounds; I think Tinnies have maybe 5.5 pounds.”

“What we learned and perceived the first time we did Tinnies is that layering creates a nice balance in bitterness but carries through the whole time the beer is on your palate,” he says.

Additionally, the shelf stability of the beer improved.

“As soon as the beer came out and we saw how [the flavor] persisted at the four-week and six-week mark, [Scotty] had really sold me on layering,” says Tallman.

He continues, “For what it was, basically ‘not being an IPA,’ it was perceived very, very well, at least from the murmurs we heard in the taproom.”

Redefining Years of the American IPA

firestone walker brewing company firestone xpa
Photography courtesy of Firestone Walker Brewing Company

Now, each will probably tell you they’re glad they leaped.

Tallman mentioned the first release of Tinnies went so well that, when we chatted, they had just canned the second batch and had even brewed another XPA as one of their two anniversary beers in January. In its Untappd Community Awards, the world’s largest social networking app for beer drinkers voted Tinnies the third highest-rated XPA in the country (for posterity, another XPA Burgeon brewed called Manilita came in second!).

“We’re always looking for low-alcohol session beers, which is pretty common amongst brewery industry folk,” explains Tallman, who also shipped off Tinnies to the World Beer Cup this year. “We do that a lot because it’s personally what we like to do, but it’s cool to see consumers grabbing onto it.”

As for Brynildson, well, he set his sights on brewing Firestone’s version of an XPA before leaving Australia.

“At the Melbourne airport, he messaged me,” recalls Hargrave. “‘I bought every [XPA] I could find!’”

Hargrave says Brynildson took ten or fifteen cans of different XPAs home.

Sure enough, nine months later, Hargrave visited California for a friend’s wedding, stopping by Brynildson’s house for dinner.

“Within about two minutes of being there, he says, ‘Speaking of pale ale, I got one in the tank down at the Propagator,’” Hargrave says Brynildson responded coolly. “He looked me in the eye and said, ‘It’s basically XPA.’”

Brynildson pulled from Firestone’s fifteen years brewing a famous pale ale called Pale 31. “It was our most award-winning beer, so we have some pale ale chops,” Brynildson shared when I caught up with him recently.

Firestone’s version features Nelson and a touch of Mosaic, dry-hopped at 2.5 pounds per barrel.

“Amazing. How big is it?” Hargrave asked.

“Five percent,” he says Brynildson responded.

“That is unbelievable,” says Hargrave, who felt genuinely flattered. “Wow, this little beer of mine had enough impact on you that you want to make a version for your audience.”

What impressed Hargrave the most was Brynildson’s restraint with the alcohol level.

“For a lot of you guys over there, it’s almost like a temptation to just f**king pump it up and blow it out,” Hargrave explains, noting that if the beer reaches over 6% ABV, you’ve already completely missed the point.

Hargrave wants XPA to be that lower-alcohol, highly-hopped, flavor-packed, bomb-proof razzle-dazzle, “lean and tropical with a soft, lush, vibrant hop character, but you have a really drinkable beer,” he says. “And I can still walk to the fridge and get another one without falling over.”

Trying to Define the Main Characteristics of an XPA

firestone walker brewing company firestone xpa
Photography courtesy of Firestone Walker Brewing Company

We’ll do our best.

Water: Should be Soft

– Hargrave didn’t harp on this ingredient too much, but according to Tallman, he advised them to soften up the water, “which really helps with that slightly higher final gravity on the beer,” explains Tallman, noting Burgeon’s West Coast-style beers are usually super bone dry.

Malt: Extra, Extra, Read All About It

– You should definitely at least start with something light like a pale or pale pilsner malt.

“I was absolutely determined that, for me, XPA mean extra pale, like no crystal malt,” explains Hargrave, admitting he hates the grain that defines American pale ales, describing it as a stale Christmas fruitcake flavor from that particular grain.

Hargrave’s version featured primarily pale malt and wheat and a touch of Munich and Carapils. “It’s all about keeping that malt base really lean, so it’ll give the hops the best platform to shine,” Hargrave explains.

Hurley agrees, noting that he will never add any crystal malts to an XPA. “For me, they’re very pale, like extra pale. Right off the bat, you want it to be more pale than a pale ale—extra pale ale.”

At Humble Sea, Pavlina says they also add oats and a touch of wheat to give it that slight haziness they found in most versions.

Hops: To Galaxy or Not to Galaxy

– An XPA is all about the hops; it’s the whole point of the style.

Hargrave sticks to what he calls those new-world tropical American hops—Citra and Mosaic as the backbone, with a bit of Amarillo and Centennial also added on the hot side.

He adamantly believes that an XPA should not include Galaxy.

Luke, who calls Cloudburst’s version Australian pale ales, says he texted Hargrave about a recipe he made earlier in the year for Cloudburst’s Pocket Universe: “Scotty was like, get that Galaxy out of there!” Luke says. “But I can’t just make a pale ale with Citra and Mosaic and call it an Australian pale ale. We have to have Australian hops in ours.”

Brynildson feels similar to Luke. “If true to style, it should have Australian hops; the Southern Hemisphere character should fit perfectly.”

As you’ll see, versions vary wildly. For Pavlina, Humble Sea and Firestone’s collab uses regular Citra pellets but also adds Galaxy T-90 and SPECTRUM and a new hop called 1019 in Lupomax form.

At Capital, Hurley believes you should use new-world hops, adding Mosaic, El Dorado, and Amarillo in Cryo and Lupomax formats. He finished by dry hopping more like a West Coast IPA, with seven grams per liter. “We put tons of hops in the whirlpool,” he shares.

And Burgeon’s Tinnies gets a whole boatload of different hops.

ABV: Low, Low, Low

– “What I found as the common denominator for XPAs is that the ABV needs to be somewhere between the high fours to under six,” says Hurley, who was shocked that he couldn’t find a good 3-4% ABV craft beer when he flew back to the States to visit his family in Idaho. “Somewhere between the ABV for a pale and an IPA.”

Brynildson says 5% ABV is like the upper limit. “XPA in Australia, [I found] a lot of examples are 3.5-4%ABV—real crushers!”

What Does the ‘X’ Stand for in XPA?

burgeon beer company tinnies xpa
Photography courtesy of Buregon Beer Company

“That’s the million-dollar question,” says Humble Sea’s Pavlina, noting that extra pale in color makes the most sense to him but that you could argue these beers are “extra hoppy compared to the normal pale ale.”

“It means more of a pale,” says Pfriem. “It’s pale ale plus.”

For Hargrave, the ‘X’ means a healthy base of extra pale malt that lets the hops shine.

But even in Australia, brewers’ answers can differ. “Does that mean extra hoppy, extra malty, extra alcohol?” says Capital’s Hurley, who actually thinks it means “a little bit of extra hops, for sure.”

The variance is, in itself, an answer here.

“There is that ‘X’ factor because every brewery you talk to makes them a little different,” says Pavlina. “That’s why we had so many conversations about XPA during our morning runs. We drank them, but what was it [that defined them]?”

Tallman agrees with Hargrave, saying, “Extra pale and extra light in terms of malt and malt character.” But he goes even further, comparing XPA to a traditional American pale ale. “It’s a higher hopping rate, and that was the hot side and cold side for us.”

Luke answers this question confidently and simply at first, “It means extra.”

Then, he thinks about explaining the style to his mom. “She’d be like extra what? Extra strong? Extra flavor?” he responds with a laugh. “No! Extra light. Extra easy. It can’t be extra special because the Brits have that.” Which is why Luke says at Cloudburst, they call their versions Australian pale ales instead of XPAs.

What Is the Future of XPA in the States?

burgeon beer company tinnies xpa
Photography courtesy of Burgeon Beer Company

“It’s an under-the-radar style that doesn’t get a lot of attention here,” says Pavlina.

While the style has taken off across the West Coast, we haven’t seen it gravitate to the Midwest and beyond yet.

Well, except for Firestone Walker’s national release, which Luke calls “kind of gutsy.” “That’s a much broader market and a much deeper customer base where people are going to be like, ‘What’s an XPA?’”

Brynildson says the seasonal release has gotten a lot of great feedback from brewers so far and sold consistently in the taproom.

To us, this is just the beginning of XPA.

“I’m hoping it’s a trend because I love seeing pale ale come back strong,” says Brynildson. “To me, in many ways, XPA is like the evolution of the pale ale. It’s where pale ale is going, a similar trajectory to West Coast IPA—lighter in body, more hop expression, and super low in ABV.”

People may be asking many questions, but that usually signals a shift in the market.

“We’re seeing the beginning of an increase,” says Tallman. “We’ve seen enough growth in this XPA realm to keep exploring and brewing more.”

Tallman has also noticed many other breweries around town throwing an XPA into their lineups.

“I’m all for it,” shares Tallman, who believes an XPA could become, similar to a pilsner, the mark of an excellent brewer because there is nothing to hide behind. “[XPAs] are a great way to show someone you can make a really, really balanced beer. I love everything about the style, and I hope it continues to pick up like it has around here.”

Hurley thinks it’s cool to see a pendulum swinging. “[Normally], Australia wants to do everything America does in the craft brewing world,” he explains. “But now, if you ever see an XPA in the States, it’s like, whoa, someone went to Australia, right!?”

And now, you don’t necessarily need to go to Australia anymore just to try an XPA.

Hop Culture’s Favorite XPAs to Try Right Now

capital brewing co xpa
Photography courtesy of Capital Brewing Co.

Balter XPA – Balter Brewing

Currumbin, Queensland, Australia

When I asked Pavlina for examples of the best XPA he drank in Australia, he immediately answered with Balter XPA. “Just super clean, well done,” he shares. “Super crushable.”

Hargrave still can’t believe this archetypal beer has taken off like it did.

“I made it for here; I made it for me,” he divulges. “It was a puzzle. I want to use all these new hops and put them in a beer, but I don’t want to be stuck just having one of them. And I’d like to be able to sit at the edge of the pool and drink three or four of these if I want.”

It’s just a classic example of the beer that started it all for XPAs in Australia—clean, refreshing, low ABV, and yet packed with tropical notes from the American hops. It’s XPA perfection.

Learn More

XPA – Capital Brewing Co.

Fyshwick, Australia

For Capital’s XPA, Hurley starts with a local craft malt from Voyager called Organic Schooner Malt. “Basically, it adds a lot of body and helps get that higher final gravity without adding too much color or flavor,” he says. “You get some subtle malty sweetness out of it, but it’s not like a toffee or caramel flavor, which makes you want to smash [it] down, especially on a hot day!”

Hop-wise, Hurley skews towards Hargrave’s new-world American hops, using Mosaic, El Dorado, and Amarillo hops.

“I always thought Mosaic and El Dorado together throw a lot of sweet candy [flavors],” he tells me. “Mosaic throws like blueberries, bubblegum. …I get grape Jolly Rancher.”

Amarillo balances everything out with citrusy components.

“It’s not, in theory, a sweet beer,” says Hurley. “But I think when you drink it, those hops and a little bit of the higher finishing gravity complement each other really well and make it really easy to drink.”

Reaching 5% ABV and only 30 IBUs, XPA, when you drink it, hits you with hops up front, finishing sweet, and as Hurley points out, “makes you want to come back for more!”

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Tinnies – Burgeon Beer Company

Carlsbad, CA

Tinnies starts with light pilsner malt along with malted wheat and flaked wheat to contribute malt feel and body, so the beer ferments as dry as a standard West Coast beer, according to Burgeon’s owner, Tallman. “We’re trying to keep the final gravity up a little to emphasize the balance in the beer further,” he explains.

Balance is critical with Tinnies. “It has a decent amount of bitterness, but we tried to focus and keep in mind these are lower-alcohol beers where the body will seem thinner,” Tallman says. “So we try to avoid creating a hop water that’s overbitter, which you get with a lot of session IPAs.”

Tinnies is anything but. At 5.3% ABV, it’s perhaps a smidge higher in alcohol content than other versions but has a candy-like fruit expression. With Riwaka, Mosaic Cryo, HBC 586, and Strata, Tinnies hit me with Juicy Fruit gum, watermelon Jolly Rancher, pink Starburst, red Twizzlers, and strawberry Fruit by the Foot.

“We really tried to round out with more fruity and strawberry notes you get out of Strata,” Tallman told me.

After a few sips, I immediately exclaimed, “Oh, yeah, I could crush this!”

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firestone walker brewing company firestone xpa
Photography courtesy of Firestone Walker Brewing Company

Firestone XPA – Firestone Walker Brewing Company

Paso Robles, CA

Crispy, hoppy, crushable. Those three words capture Firestone XPA perfectly. “The appeal of XPAs is obvious,” says Byrnildson. “They offer everything you love in a good pale at a crushable ABV.”

Hovering at just about 5% ABV, Firestone XPA, in an early batch, earned a bronze at the 2023 Great American Beer Festival in the International Pale Ale category.

Brynildson and Firestone Walker Propagator Brewery Manager Sam Tierney, who performed most of the trials for this beer, mainly used Nelson Sauvin for its tropical Sauvignon Blanc qualities. A complement of Mosaic rounds out this extra pale ale for an homage to Firestone’s history of pale ale-making with a new-school twist.

“Creating this beer brought a lot of joy to our production team; there was definitely some pent-up enthusiasm for pale ale brewing,” says Brynildson. “We wanted to lead with the punchy tropical qualities of the Nelson hop, and we found that adding just the right amount of Mosaic makes the fruit flavors all the more lush and expansive.”

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Fog Adjacent – Humble Sea Brewing Company x Firestone Walker Brewing Company

Santa Cruz, CA x Paso Robles, CA

On a particularly foggy New Year’s Eve, I found myself sitting at the bar of Humble Sea’s Pacifica taproom enjoying this extra pale ale while my wife surfed in the rain (crazy person!). Content to read my book and sip on Fog Adjacent, one might say that I stayed fog adjacent.

A collab with Firestone Walker and Humble Sea, Fog Adjacent doses Citra, Galaxy, and a new experimental hop called HBC 1019 in this XPA style that honestly hides in the foggy shadows of hazies and West Coasties.

Pavlina describes the beer as pouring a straw-gold with a light haze and aromas of “lemon-lime, peach rings, white grapes,” he shares. “The flavor has subtle sweetness and bitterness, not any bitter mouthfeel; dry and light bodied.”

If I were Goldilocks sitting down at the three bears’ table to eat my gruel and drink my beer, this would be the one that’s just right. Not too hoppy. Not too light. Just a perfect medium-bodied beer with a soft slap of citrus that gently wakes you up thanks to the Citra, Galaxy, and HBC 1019 hops.

It was the perfect beer to curl up with while reading a book on a foggy California day, so I did exactly that.

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Pocket Universe – Cloudburst Brewing

Seattle, WA

Luke says Cloudburst’s Australian pale ale starts with a super simple malt bill but adds a “smorgasbord of hops.”

Luke doses Pocket Universe with Citra, Mosaic, and Nectaron, “because I think that lends itself to nectarine with a really pleasant depth of flavor that doesn’t fade,” he says, adding they also add a little bit of Chinook and dry hop with Galaxy and, again, Citra and Mosaic. “It’s citrusy and tropical, but there’s no bitterness.”

Luke adds that this batch of Pocket Universe finishes pretty dry at around 1.8 degrees Plato before they carb it at lager-like levels to give the beer a nice foam and head.

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Extra Pale Ale – pFriem Family Brewers

Hood River, OR

Josh Pfriem says that Extra Pale Ale “should be a bright beer that’s slightly golden with a touch of copper.”

Where pFriem’s XPA hits you is on the nose with some big tropical papaya, mango, and a bit of tangerine sherbet.

Brewed with Mosaic, Citra, and Strata to “give a little strawberry,” pFriem’s XPA hits the palate with “big strawberry, big cantaloupe, big sweet citrus, and a little bit of tropical round softness,” says Pfriem, noting a balanced bitterness is critical.

“Something really important to us is that all pFriem beer shouldn’t be a big blast in the face the first couple of sips and stays heavy on the palate towards the end,” he explains. “The end of the glass should show up way faster than anticipated, and you’re already looking for the next by the time you finish your first.”

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XPA – Philter Brewing

Marrickville, New South Wales, Australia

When I asked Brynildson to share his favorite XPA from that epic Australia trip, he brought up Philter’s XPA. He feels they make “the quintessential XPA that’s super low alcohol and very Australian hop-forward,” he says.

Plump with Citra, Galaxy, Simcoe, and Citra hops, XPA “meets you with tropical fruit aromas, delivering a distinctly refreshing hop flavor and leaving a balanced finish,” according to the beer’s Untappd description. “Easy-drinking, she’s a beaut.”

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