Pale ales are what we reach for most when we're looking for fresh, easy-drinking beers that you can have in multiples. That's why they're the go-to beverage for any party, this weekend or otherwise. At most gatherings, you'll find some form of an American pale ale, which eschews bready malts for a leaner, cleaner backbone and showcases big hop flavors. Sierra Nevada perfected the style, but most craft breweries in the United States make a version of their own. The English tradition is the other most common kind of pale ale - a breadier, fruitier brew that features subtle, floral hops, like Fullers ESB or Bass Ale. Then there's the excellent Firestone Walker Brewing Company's Pale 31, a blend that has it both ways, and manages to show off the best of the traditions. The most dominant part of the blend is an American-style pale ale (the unadulterated version of this beer is the Mission Street Pale Ale, brewed for Trader Joe's, and it's loaded with a blend of aggressive American hops). The second part of the blend is an oak-barrel fermented English pale ale sold alone as  Double Barrel Ale. As with most english pale ales, or bitters, this one is bready and mellow with the added bonus of a barrel to add some backgound smoke and vanilla.

Blended together, the Mission Street and Double Barrel make Pale 31 an entirely different kind of pale ale. The citrusy and piny hop notes happily marry with bready malt flavors, and the barrels lend a smooth drinkability. It's exquisite balance has earned it two gold medals in the Great American beer festival and four more in the World Beer Cup. At the least, it's a one-of-the kind pale ale that is a conversation starter at the begining of a party and as easy drinking as a Bud at the end of it. [firestonebeer.com]