This beer style is a pale, hoppy ale with a refreshing taste and a balanced malt backbone for easy drinkability. The hop character can come from a variety of American or New World hops, ranging from citrus to pine to tropical fruit flavors. The beer is generally pale golden to light amber in color with a moderately large white to off-white head and good clarity, although dry-hopped versions may have a slight haze.

In terms of aroma, there should be a moderate to strong hop presence with notes of citrus, floral, pine, or other fruity and spicy flavors. The malt should be low to moderate and support the hop aroma, potentially with slight notes of bread, toast, biscuit, or caramel. Fruity esters can vary from moderate to none, and dry hopping may add grassy notes.

The flavor should have moderate to high hop character, balanced by low to moderate clean maltiness and a medium to dry finish with moderate to high bitterness. The aftertaste should be clean and not harsh. The mouthfeel should be medium-light to medium with moderate to high carbonation and a smooth finish without astringency or harshness.

This style originated as an American adaptation of English pale ale, using indigenous ingredients such as North American two-row pale ale malt, American or New World hops, and neutral to lightly fruity American or English ale yeast. Specialty grains may also be used for added complexity, but in smaller quantities. The hopping style can vary from classic large bitterness addition to modern late hop-bursting techniques.

Compared to English pale ale, American pale ale is lighter in color, cleaner in fermentation by-products, and has less caramel flavors. It is also less intensely hop-focused and bitter than session-strength American IPAs. Overall, it is a balanced and drinkable beer style that has become popular in the international craft beer market with local adaptations appearing in many countries.