American Pale Ales and their British counterpoint, Golden Ale

American Pale Ale

AmericanPale-SierraNevadaWhen North American brewers make a Pale Ale, they use stronger hops and more of them than the British Ale brewers. That's the most obvious difference between the two styles. But there's more. Different malt, different yeast, different temperatures, different water, different attitude.

They aren't aiming at the same audience. In England, Scotland, and Wakes there are lots of lager drinkers (Carlsberg, Stella) but more than half of the pubs have 2 or more handpulls serving Pale Ale in cask conditioned form. Across the pond by far most drinkers wouldn't abandon their Budmillercoors for an ale of any kind. They are trying to interest the aficionado. The interested. The showoffs. The beer geek. The type of person who is reading this book right now.

To attract the fanatic, he (she) has to be distinctive. He has to offer something more than a bottled Bass or Old Speckled Hen from the supermarket. Distinctive means more alcohol and more bitterness. U.S. Northwest hops are available for just that purpose. They are spicy, citric, and even grapefruity. The earthy notes of Fuggles aren't called for. Sharp bitterness is. Brewpub brewers often push their Pale Ale into the IPA range (and their IPA into the Imperial IPA range).

Native Territory: Northwest US.

Color (SRM):  Medium gold through medium copper to medium amber. Absolutely clear. (5 - 14).

Head:  White. Can be thin.

Aromas:  Malt and hops. Can be sweet or dry.

Flavors:  Malt background and citrusy hops. Bready. Orange fruit. Grassy.

Finish:  Not overly long. Not astringent.

Mouthfeel:  Medium light.

Carbonation:  Medium to high CO2.

Alcohol:  Present but not noticeable. 4.5 - 6.0% ABV.

Bitterness (IBU):  Plenty of Northwest hops. Possibly dry-hopped for additional aroma, especially at a brewpub. (20 - 50 IBU).

Serving:  Pint or half-pint English straight-side glass or a pilsner glass. Serve cool to cold - 40°F.

Malts:  Pale Malt. Crystal Malt. Sometimes some Vienna Malt for color.

Hops:  Amarillo. Cascade. Centennial. Chinook. Columbus. Simcoe. Willamette. Sometimes also Noble hops such as Perle or Hallertau. The dwarf Summit hops are gaining popularity among US brewers.

Yeast:  American Ale Yeast.

Related Styles:

British Pale Ale - The grandfather of the style. Different, more earthy, hops. Darker color and flavors.

British Golden Ale - The American Pale Ale has been transferred back to England.

American IPA - Hoppier yet. Stronger alcohol. Hop dominates the malt.

Logo-BBCImperial IPA - Even hoppier yet. Stronger alcohol. Hop completely decimates the malt.

BobRoundEdge-BL's Pick: Bluegrass Brewing American Pale Ale - Louisville, KY brewpub - Ruddy red. Balanced citric bitter.

Rare Gems:Logo-ArcadiaAnglersLabel

Arcadia Angler's Ale (Battle Creek - Michigan, USA) - Cascade hops are strong but not overpowering. Smooth. Good neutral belch.

Jaipur Brewing Summit Gold Ale - Omaha, NE brewpub and Indian restaurant - Slightly cloudy dark yellow gold. Well balanced. Creamy. Belgian Lace.

The Library Red Eye Ale - Laramie, WY brewpub - Fine example. Not over-hopped but Cascade is there. Creamy.

Widely Available:


Left Hand Jackman's Pale Ale - Longmont, CO regional brewery - Crisp and not overly hopped. Spicy and floral.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale - Chico, CA megabrewer - One of the originals and the epitome of the style. Plenty of hoppy goodness without being overpowering. Their Harvest Ale is similar but brewed once a year with very fresh hops.

Three Floyds Alpha King - Munster, IN regional brewery - A big, hoppy beer from a big, not-normal brewery.RoundEdge-BL[1]

Typical 5-gallon (US) recipe


9.5 lb Pale malt
1.1 lb Crystal 20L malt
.4 lb  malt
.2 lb Black Patent or Special B malt

Adjuncts, Fruit, Spices: None


1 oz Amarillo hops at start of boil
.5 oz Cascade hops for a 15 minute boil
.5 oz Cascade hops at end of boil

Yeast: American Ale yeast

Mash: Infusion

Boil time: 60 minutes

OG / FG: 1054 / 1012

British Golden  Ale

Logo-CrouchVale-BrewersGoldAlso called Summer Ale, this is a relatively new style similar to a British Bitter but using only simple 2-row pale malt. This gives the beer a light golden color and a less malty flavor. Higher levels of hopping (often using stronger hops) add to the crisp, bitter flavor.

The style was started in the late 1986 by the Somerset Brewery to appeal to younger, perhaps lager, drinkers. In twenty years it became so popular that Crouch Vale Brewers Gold was named the Champion Beer of Britain at both the 2005 and 2006 Great British Beer Festivals. This example is very similar to an American IPA and uses Cascade hops for an intense grapefruit bitterness.

It's thought that almost 15% of British Ales are now of the Golden Ale style.

Native Territory: Southern England.

Color (SRM):  Gold, Light copper, Light amber (4 - 8).

Head:  Same as a Pale Ale.

Aromas:  Malt. Hop bitterness. Bready biscuit.

Flavors:  Malt. Citric. Hop bitterness. Sometimes fruity undertones.

Finish:  Long bitter dryness.

Mouthfeel:  Light to medium. Little carbonation. Cooler than Pale Ales but still served warmer than American Blonde Ales.

Carbonation:  Should be quite low. Cask Conditioned forms use no carbon dioxide.

Alcohol:  3.6 - 5.5% ABV.

Bitterness (IBU):  Medium to heavy. (20 - 40 IBU).

Serving:  Pint or half-pint English straight-side glass or handled mug. Serve at 40°F or so - cooler than a Pale Ale - to suit the tastes of a drinker of lighter beers.

Malts:  Pale, Maris Otter. Sugar adjunct. Maybe a touch of wheat for head retention.

Hops:  Bramling Cross, Challenger, Fuggles. Often with US Cascade, Mt. Hood, Willamette. Sometimes Hallertau is used instead of U.K. hops.

Yeast:  British Ale Yeast.

Related Styles:  British Pale Ales uses some darker malts and with generally lower hopping rates.

Logo-ExmoorBob's Pick: Exmoor Gold - Taunton, Somerset, England regional brewery - Deep yellow. Fuggles and Goldings. Quite as bitter as a light-colored IPA. 4.5%

Logo-TripleFFFRare Gems:  Triple FFF Gilbert White - Alton, Hampshire, England microbrewery - Maris Otter and a touch of smoked malt giving a bit of unexpected smokiness. 6%

Widely Available:


Crouch Vale Brewers Gold - Chelmsford, Essex, England regional brewery - "Honey-toned golden ale with grapefruit sharpness offset by suggestions of melon and pineapple". CAMRA Champion Beer of Britain, 2005 and 2006. Simply an American IPA made with British malts and Cascade hops. 4%

Hopback Summer Lightning - Salisbury, England - Hoppy aroma and long bitter finish. 5%

Wye Valley Hereford Pale Ale (HPA) - Stoke Lacy, Herefordshire, England) - Target and Styrian Goldings. Fruity and citric hop softness. Nice sweet start. 4%

Pale Ale - Pale Mild, Bitter, Best Bitter, ESB

BritishPaleAlePale Ales are the quintessential British Ale. They are normally served by the pint or the half-pint either in Cask Conditioned form with very little carbonation, in keg form under CO2, or, recently, with nitrogen pressure known as Smooth. Virtually every pub in the U.K. has one or more Pale Ales on tap.

The basic style originated over 200 years ago when glass drinking vessels became affordable and popular. Before that, dark, murky ales were acceptable. The brewers quickly learned that "Burtonized" water, which is fairly high in sulphur, made a better pale ale.

The famous "Burton Union" open-fermenting vats used at Burton upon Trent are given much credit for popularizing the style. They work by connecting wooden fermenting casks to a trough through piping. Foaming action forces the yeast up to the square rather than let it stay in the wort. The only system left is at Marston's Brewery and only used to make Pedigree. reference

Fuggles and East Kent Goldings hops are the backbone of the bitterness. Fuggles gives a particular earthy aroma and flavor and the EKG give a fragrant bitter aroma. Both are relatively low-acidic hops which results in an ale which allows your nose to appreciate the bitterness without attacking your tongue.

Top-fermenting yeast is, of course, necessary and many strains of yeast have been developed by the older, bigger breweries to give a distinct flavor to their beer.

When buying in bottled form, be very aware of the sensitive nature of the ale as it will easily be damaged by poor storage. Heat and especially light can skunk Pale Ales and transportation overseas is usually not in refrigerated containers. Check sell-by dates rigorously. Bottled examples and even keg versions may not be the same as cask versions sold in the U.K.

There are several degrees of Pale Ale such as (weak to strong) Pale Mild, Session Ale, Ordinary Bitter, Pale Ale, Bitter, Best Bitter, Special Bitter, Strong Bitter, Extra Special Bitter (ESB), and Strong Bitter. The main difference may be solely the alcoholic content (ABV) which may overlap quite a bit.

Sometimes the name or style given by the brewing company doesn't relate very well to the strength of the beer. That said, here's a chart of the probable range.

Style OG
(Original Gravity)
(Final Gravity)
(Alcohol %)
Pale Mild
1030 - 1036 1004 - 1008 3.0 - 3.6 15 - 25 8 - 17
Ordinary Bitter 1032 - 1040 1007 - 1011 3.2 - 3.8 25 - 35 8 - 12
Best Bitter
1040 - 1048
1008 - 1012 3.6 - 4.6
30 - 45
8 - 14
1048 - 1060 1010 - 1016 4.4 - 6.0 35 - 50 8 - 18

BritishPaleAle-MarstonsStrongAlthough very popular shortly after WWII, Milds are now one of the rarer styles of ale in Britain (and virtually unknown elsewhere). Pale Milds are not as hard to find as Dark Milds though. Both Milds are also known as Session Ales because they can be enjoyed during a full session in a British pub - 4 hours in the afternoon or 5 hours in the evening. Pale Milds have a light color but still copper rather than yellow or golden. Dark Milds are really a form of Brown Ale. Neither usually lacks for taste even though the alcoholic content is lighter than a Bitter.

When in England looking for a Pale Mild, you might consider a beer called an IPA. There has been an unfortunate marketing aberration in the last 20 years to use the term IPA on a brewery's least alcoholic and least hoppy beer. Go figure.

The Ordinary Bitter is the normal ale found in British pubs and the beer most often enjoyed by in Real Ale form every right-thinking CAMRA member in Britain.

Best Bitter and Extra Special Bitter are stronger versions with more alcohol, more malt, and more balancing hops giving a more bitter taste, though not usually a more bitter aroma. They often have a thicker body also due to a higher Final Gravity. These are also often darker than Pale Milds and Ordinary Bitters.

Of course there are variations on these themes you can find. Marston's Strong Pale Ale, for instance, has been made since before WWI from Maris Otter barley, Fuggles and Goldings hops and comes in at 6.2% ABV. It seems like an Ordinary Bitter with 75% more alcohol. Available only in bottles - clear ones at that so beware of light-struck beers if improperly stored.


Native Territory: Central England.

Color (SRM): See table above. Amber, light copper through dark copper. The color is not directly related to the strength. (8 - 18).

Head: Head is not a big matter in British ales. Cask conditioned ales are notably low in head, just the foam created by the dispense.
Nitro dispense beers have a dense white head that stays a long time.

Aromas: Malt. Caramel. Fruit. Hoppy bitterness more prevalent in the stronger styles.

Flavors: Malt. Low bitterness from UK hops which increases with the strength to balance the malt.

Finish: Some bitter dryness.

Mouthfeel: Light to medium. Fairly warm - acceptable at almost room temperature.

Carbonation: Usually quite low. Cask Conditioned forms use no CO2.

Alcohol: See table above. Ranges from very light in milds to quite strong in ESBs. (3.0 - 6.0% ABV)

Bitterness (IBU): See table above. Bitterness should be very present at all levels. (15 - 50 IBU)

Serving: Pint or half-pint English straight-side glass or handled mug. Serve cool, rather than room temperature - 45°F or a bit less.

Malts: Pale, Amber, Crystal. Maris Otter malt can completely replace the Pale malt. Some Biscuit malt can add toasty, bready notes. Often a sugar adjunct. Maybe a touch of wheat for head retention - needed due to low carbonation.

Hops: East Kent Goldings. Fuggles.

Yeast: British Ale Yeast, London Ale Yeast.

Related Styles:
British Dark Mild - Using more specialty malts.
British Golden Ale - Using purely Pale Malt.
British IPA – Lighter than Pale Ales.

American IPA - Using more and stronger hops.
American Pale Ale - Using US Northwest hops.

Notes: Water may need to be "Burtonized" by addition of sulfates.
ESB is a trademark of Fuller's in the UK but a generic style name elsewhere.


Bob's Picks:


Pale Mild - Banks's Original - Wolverhampton, England regional brewery -  Fairly weak but well balanced. 3.5%.

Ordinary Bitter: Adnams Bitter - Suffolk, England regional brewery - Sulfury, hops come through strong. 3.7%

Best Bitter: Marston's Pedigree - Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, England regional brewery - Fruity, bitter, and some sulfur. 4.5%

ESB: Exe Valley Devon Glory - Exeter, Devon, England regional brewery - Sweetish with fruit coming on late. 4.7%.

Rare Gems:


Pale Mild: Hexhamshire Devil's Elbow - Northumberland, England microbrewery - Amber color. Full hops and fruity goodness. 3.6%.

Ordinary Bitter: St. Austell Tinners Ale - Cornwall, England microbrewery - Thick rich pale session ale. Caramel comes through. 3.7%

Best Bitter: Badger's Bitter - Dorset, England regional brewery - Good body and lots of earthy First Gold hops. 4.0%

ESB: Ramsbury Deer Hunter - Wiltshire, England regional brewery - Quite dark. Strong alcohol balanced against lots of hops. 5.0%

Widely Available:


Pale Mild:

McMullen AK - Hertfordshire, England regional brewery - Dry finish. 3.7%.

Greene King IPA - Bury St. Edmonds, England megabrewer - Simple session ale with little bitterness. 3.6%

Ordinary Bitter:

Brakspear Bitter - Oxfordshire, England regional brewery - Hoppy and spicy citric orange. 3.4%

Cotleigh Tawny Bitter - Somerset, England regional brewery - Hop nose. Malt/fruit start and long bitter finish. 3.8%

Young's Bitter - Bedford, England megabrewery - Light colored. Lots of bitter hoppiness. 3.7%

Best Bitter:

Fuller's London Pride - London, England megabrewer - Brownish color. Citric dryness. 4.1%.

Greene King Ruddles County - Bury St. Edmonds, England megabrewer - Rich, dark. Sweet fruit start and a dry finish. 4.3%

Goose Island Honkers Ale - Chicago, USA regional brewery - Crisp ale that uses mostly English hops. 5.0%.


Black Sheep Special Ale - North Yorkshire, England regional brewery - Rich, nutty. Hoppy finish. 4.4%.

Fuller's ESB - London, England megabrewer - Full bodied. Roast and sweet orange. 5.5%.

Ringwood Old Thumper - Hampshire, UK regional brewery and also made in the US under license by Shipyard Brewing of Portland, ME - Brownish color. Fruit aroma. Sweet malt taste with quite hoppy finish. 5.6%

Shepard Neame Bishop's Finger - Kent, England regional brewery - Strong malty brew. 5.0%

Typical 5-gallon (US) recipe (Ordinary Bitter):

Grains: 5.5 lb Maris Otter Pale malt. .1 lb Crystal 55L malt (that’s point 1 pounds, 1.6 ounces.

Adjuncts, Fruit, Spices: .6 lb Cane Sugar

Hops: 1 oz East Kent Goldings hops at start of boil. 1 oz Fuggles hops for 15 minutes of boil

Yeast: London Ale yeast

Mash: Infusion

Boil time: 60 minutes

OG / FG: 1040 / 1009

Typical 5-gallon (US) recipe (ESB)

Grains: 10.0 lb Maris Otter Pale malt. .1 lb Crystal  55L malt

Adjuncts, Fruit, Spices: .2 lb Cane Sugar

Hops: 2 oz East Kent Goldings hops for 60 minutes of boil

Yeast: London Ale yeast

Mash: Infusion.

Boil time: 90 minutes

OG / FG: 1058 / 1013

Dribs and Drams

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Silliness: Rogue Sriracha hot stout.


Barley Wine

BarleyWineThe strongest of the British ales, the most malt, the most hops, the most alcohol, the most residual sugar, the heaviest taste, and the longest aging and storage time. (That Greene King Harvest Ale to the right was brewed in 1978 and enjoyed by me in 2005 - "Stayed well in the bottle. Not strong at 7% ABV, but a good mature barley wine. Port, wine, and grappa still come through").

Even though they are thick and strong, there is lots of leeway for paler as well as coal-black beers. They can be soft as a lover's caress or biting as a drill sergeant's bark.

The traditional brewing method of Barley Wines is quite simple; in fact it's actually easier to make than a Pale Ale. Have you heard of sparging? The first time water is run through the grain it picks up most of the fermentable sugars and ends up with an OG (original gravity) of, say, 1080 or so (8% sugars). For most beers more water is percolated through the grain, adding to the original run, until the final run is down to, say, 1007 - giving a full batch of wort of, say 1030. For Barley Wine, just use the first run of water. Simple, huh?

Of course your batch is quite a bit smaller, maybe only half of the amount of Pale Ale you'd get with the same amount of grain. So expect Barley Wines to be quite expensive. The rest of the grain? Make some Small Beer.

The real problem is getting your yeast to stand up to the sugars and shout "more, give me more". You need a very robust yeast to ferment upwards of 10%. Sometimes Champagne yeast was added when the Ale yeast died. Rogue Brewery in the US has developed a strain of very robust yeast they have named Pac-man Yeast for applications just like this.

Now you need to store the beer for aging. Wooden vats introduced lots of tannins and sour, lactic flavors and bacteria could literally slip through the cracks to add more flavors. All part of a good Barley Wine. Now with stainless steel vats and better control of the brewing process there is less difference from year to year but aging still is needed to marry the flavors.

Draw off the beer after only 6 months and you might get a raw, strong, overly raisiny beer that you won't be proud of. Leave it for a year or two to be sure.

Smaller breweries quite often serve a Barley Wine in the dead of winter that was brewed the previous spring. They also usually save back a barrel or two to be served next year. I guarantee you, as a consumer, will like the 21-month old ale much better than the 9-month old ale.

By the way, Barley Wine, like all strong beers, will age in the bottle. If you buy a bottle and store it for a few years (resist the temptation) you will be rewarded. For this reason, most Barley Wines (and many Old Ales) are age-dated by the year of brewing.

American Barley Wines are usually so similar to British Barley Wines as to be indistinguishable. Usually they are styled strictly on the British style and while sometimes the use of US Northwest hops give a slightly more citrusy bitterness, the massive malt base generally masks any difference.

BritishBarleyWine-ThomasHardysThe term Barley Wine was first used by Bass in 1903.

The most legendary Barley Wine is Thomas Hardy's Ale, developed in 1968 by Eldridge Pope brewery in Dorchester, Cornwall. It has been marketed in year-dated bottles since the beginning but there is a gap when the brewery shut down in 1999 (Eldridge Pope decided there was more money to be made in owning pubs than in making beer). In 2003 another brewer (O'Hanlon's of Whimple, Devon) started brewing Thomas Hardy's under license and it is considered just as good as before.

One eloquent review from RateBeer of a 1968 Hardy's tasted in 2006: "Pours reddish brown with a few sparse bubbles around the rim of the snifter despite no hint of carbonation while popping the cap. Smells of cognac, oak, some sherry notes, figs, raisins. Tastes of butterscotch, wood, cognac, some dates, hints of smokiness. This one has an established neck on the glass like a wine. Mouthfeel is peppery with hints of spices and raisins. I can’t believe how complex this one tastes for a 38 year old bottle. No cardboard notes, no wateriness, no fading. As I finish, the alcohol tickles my tongue slightly. This is the true king of aging candidates."

J.W. Lees puts out a series of Harvest Ale in casks and bottles. In addition to the "regular" Barley Wine, there are also versions that have been aged in Lagavulin Scotch Whisky, Calvados, Sherry, and Port casks. Each is distinct and all are wonderful.

Native Territory: England

Color (SRM): Usually deep amber but there are many lighter examples. (10 - 22).

Head: Maybe, maybe not.

Aromas: Malt, Dark fruit. Caramel. Some have strong hop aromas. Some are winey.

Flavors: Malt. Dark dried fruit. Sherry. Molasses. Sweet dark candy. Complex.

Finish: Long, Long. Long.

Mouthfeel: Not overly heavy. Alcoholic.

Carbonation: Usually quite still.

Alcohol: Quite warming to the mouth. 7 - 12% ABV.

Bitterness (IBU): Lots of hops to balance the extreme amount of malt. (50 - 100 IBU).

Serving: Buy several to test occasionally, checking for maturity. Serve at room temperature in a tulip glass that you can get your nose in.

Malts: Mostly Pale malt with a little Crystal or other dark malts.

Hops: East Kent Goldings. Fuggles. Target. Northdown.

Yeast: London Ale Yeast. Ringwood Ale Yeast. Sometimes finished off with Champagne Yeast. Pac-man Yeast.

Related Styles: Old Ale could be considered a lighter variation. Small Beer is made from the second running of Barley Wine mash.

Notes: Long boil times concentrate the wort somewhat through evaporation, giving a stronger and darker beer. This also adds some caramelization.

Logo-JWLeesBob's Pick: J.W. Lees Harvest Ale - Manchester, England megabrewery - Sherry, caramel, maple, wood. Enough hops to balance. Bottled versions include plain and 4 wood-aged. The Lagavulin Cask adds some peat smokiness. Grayish color. 11.5%


Rare Gems:

Bell's Beer - Kalamazoo, MI regional brewery - They release at their house tap, the Eccentric Cafe, a cask conditioned Barley Wine every 1000 batches. Each time it's different and well aged. Usually between 9 and 10% ABV.

Logo-BroadRippleBroad Ripple Ankle Biter - Indianapolis, IN brewpub - Laid down for 6 or 18 months before tapping. Clear red. Rich caramel, malt, toffee. Lightish body. Drinkable. 10%


Widely Available:

Anchor Old Foghorn San Francisco regional brewery - Soft. Deceptively non-alcoholic. All Cascade hops make it a unique barley wine. 7.2 to 10%

Logo-BurtonBridgeBurton Bridge Thomas Sykes Old Ale  - Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, England regional brewery - Brownish copper, straw color. Rich. Alcoholic. Dark fruits, berries. Sour from the cask. Target hops. 10%

North Coast Old Stock Ale - Fort Bragg, CA regional brewery - Earthy. Caramel. Brandy, port, cognac, etc. Slight bitter finish. Alcohol certainly comes through strong. 13.2%

O'Hanlon's Thomas Hardy's Ale - Whimple, Devon, England regional brewery - Dark amber. Oak, cherry. Hops are stuck way in the background. Please let sit for at least 10 years. 11.7%

Rogue Old Crustacean - Newport, OR regional brewery - Wheat notes. Prunes. Earthy. Tobacco. Heavy mouthfeel, clinging. 11.5%

Sierra Nevada Bigfoot - Chico, CA regional megabrewery - Well rounded. Cascade hops come through and this might be the hoppiest barleywine extant. 9.6%

InBev Gold Label - Preston, Lancashire, England megabrewery - From the same brewery that makes bottled Bass. Nip bottles (180ml) found in many British pubs under the counter for regulars who are looking for a quick alcohol kick. There's some interesting tastes such as candy, orange, pepper, and a lot of alcohol so it might be worth a taste but it won't win any awards. Mentioned as it is undoubtedly the most popular Barleywine in the world. 9.5%

Typical 5-gallon (US) recipe:

Grains: 20 lb Pale malt, .66 lb Crystal 60L malt, .25 lb Crystal 120L malt

Adjuncts, Fruit, Spices: 2 oz Vanilla bean

1.5 oz Challenger hops at start of boil
.5 oz East Kent Goldings at start of boil
1 oz Fuggles for 15 minutes of boil
.5 oz East Kent Goldings for 15 minutes of boil
1 oz East Kent Goldings at end of boil

Yeast: English Ale yeast

Mash: Infusion

Boil time: 90 minutes

OG / FG: 1100 / 1020

Notes: Dry hop with another 1 oz of East Kent Goldings in secondary fermentation, adding Ringwood Ale yeast. Allow to mature for at least 9 months. Store for up to 10 years.

Old Ales and the story of Old Peculier

BritishStrongAle-WadworthOldTimerA big step up from Pale Ales, the Old Ale is below a Barley Wine but still with plenty of alcohol - sometimes over 7% - but many have achieved the strong taste without high levels of hops. It's usually darker, thicker and has a rich malt taste with lots of balancing hops.

Strong ales go way, way back. The Domesday book of 1086 records a brewer using a total of 5.6 lb of grain per gallon. Barley, wheat, and oats in vast quantities. More than is used now for an Imperial Stout or Barleywine. Beer had to be made that way to stay drinkable without refrigeration - or even well-sealed casks. The preservative properties of hops weren't known yet. This condition lasted into the 1800s when gravities (sugars in the wort) went down a bit.

Worthington Burton Ale in 1800 was brewed at 1103 OG with 8.7% ABV. In 1890 this same beer was 1097 and 7.9%.

But they aren't called Old Ales because the style is old but because of the aging it gets before it's ready to drink - but the style really is one of the older types of beer. They are now mainly a winter drink but in the 1800s breweries often shut down during the summer when temperatures were too hot for fermentation and Old Ales that were brewed in the winter made their appearance in the pubs.

BritishStrongAle-MarstonsOwdRodgerThen known as Stock Ale, Old Ale was much more prevalent than today. It gradually disappeared in the industrial age mainly due to the cost of brewing and the development of Porter but has made a come-back with the popularity of Old Peculier (see below).

Old Ale was one of the styles mixed to make early Entire Butt beers that became the Porter style. This in part because London breweries brought Stock Ale out of the cellar to mix with dwindling supplies of fresh beer during the summer. Any left once brewing resumed in the autumn was called Old Ale. Industrialization and refrigeration actually spelled doom in this case.

Today, these beers are occasionally found on tap in cask conditioned form but are more often bottled and suitable for aging in your house like a fine wine. Many are bottle-conditioned (with a touch of yeast added) to further enhance aging. All have been held in casks or wooden tuns to develop their characteristics.

Malty sweetness predominates and hopefully there's some sourness, dark fruit (melanoidin), and maybe woody flavors - all due to the aging process. Actually Old Ale was a much sweeter beer back in the 1800s. Fermentation was not done as thoroughly as today (not attenuated as much) so there were more residual sugars in the finished product.

Many brewers use a secondary fermentation and introduce Brettanomyces bacteria to give an earthy, "horse blanket" character.

Most Old Ales are made in Britain. Some US brewers make similar beers but usually lack the brettanomyces sourness that became traditional and needed to be added after casks became metal instead of wood, a good harbor of microflora. The term Barleywine is often applied to Strong Ales in the US.

Native Territory: Southern England

Color (SRM): A large range. Amber to dark reddish. Brown (8 - 21).

Head: Usually very little.

Aromas: Sweet malt. Dark fruit. Candy such as toffee, caramel, or treacle. Roastiness. Leather. Tobacco.

Flavors: Malt, fruit, plum. Sherry sweetness. Earthiness. Tannin. Wood. Some oxidation. Lactic acid.

Finish: Strong with a bitter ending. Not necessarily long.

Mouthfeel: Reasonably thick but far less than chewy.

Carbonation: Some carbonation can build throughout years of aging.

Alcohol: A large range. Quite noticeable. Warming. 4.5 - 10% ABV.

Bitterness (IBU): Spicy bitterness in the background only to balance the sweetness. (30 - 70 IBU).

Serving: Suitable for a smaller, wide-mouth glass. Serve at 50°F plus

Malts: Pale, Crystal, Chocolate, Black Patent, Roasted.

Hops: Fuggles, Northdown.

Yeast: British Ale Yeast. London ESB Ale Yeast. Ringwood Ale Yeast.

Related Styles: Winter Warmers are similar seasonal beers that have more spices and/or fruit added.

Notes: Sometimes molasses or treacle are added to the mash. Brettanomyces bacteria are often added to the aging beer in Britain.

Bob's Pick:

Logo-Ridley-OldBobRidley's Old Bob - Chelmsford, Essex, England megabrewery - Reddish. Caramelly and vinous with a touch of licorice. All Fuggles hops. 5.1%

Rare Gems:

Goose Island Imperial Brown Goose - Chicago regional brewery - A blend of Christmas Ales from two years that have been aged in bourbon barrels.

Robinson's Old Tom - Stockport, Cheshire, England regional brewery - Strong but with delicate flavors. Chocolate, plum, port. Long bitter-sweet finish. 8.5%

Logo-WadworthWadworth Old Timer - Devises, Wiltshire, England regional brewery - Buttery smooth and bracing. Winter seasonal. 5.8%

Widely Available:

Gale's Prize Old Ale - London megabrewery (Fullers) - Sherry, molasses, raisin, and yet still dry. Sipping beer. They say "at its best after 20 years of maturing". 9%

Logo-GreatDivideGreat Divide Hibernation Ale - Denver, CO regional brewery - Roast and some smoke character. Brown sugar, dark malt. Northwest hops give a citric bitter finish. 8.1%

Greene King Strong Suffolk - Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, England - A blend of two ales, a 12% which is matured for 2 years and a 4.4% fresh beer. Small head. Oak comes through strongly. Vanilla from the oak augments the dark malt flavors. 6%

Marston's Owd Rodger - Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, England - Nicely married. Fully malty with lots of balance. 7.6%

Theakston Old Peculier - Masham, North Yorkshire, England - Butter, lactic, caramel, chocolate. Aged taste. 5.6%

Young's Old Nick - Bedford, England megabrewery - Labeled a Barley Wine but not enough alcohol. One of the most readily available. Can be harsh if not kept. All Fuggles and Goldings. Dark red color. Lots of Crystal malt. 7.2%

Typical 5-gallon (US) recipe

11 lb Pale malt
1 lb Crystal 60L malt
.5 lb Biscuit malt
.25 lb Crystal 120L malt

Adjuncts, Fruit, Spices:
.5 lb Molasses

.75 oz Target hops at start of boil
.5 oz Fuggles for 15 minutes of boil

British Ale yeast


Boil time:
90 minutes

OG / FG:
1067 / 1017

Age for 4 months minimum.

The story of Theakston's Old Peculier

Logo-Theakston-OldPeculierOld Peculier is without doubt the most famous Old Ale and has been since it revived the style by winning Champion Winter Beer of Britain in 2000.

About the name: The title of Peculier of Masham was bestowed on Nigel de Albini by William the Conqueror. A Peculier is a French word for a particular court - the legal kind rather than the "at court" kind. This kickback made Nigel the head honcho around those parts.

The title passed to his heirs, Roger de Mowbay, etc. Roger, as you know (don't you?) was captured during the Crusades and ransomed by the Knights Templar. In gratitude, he gave the Peculier of Masham to the Archbishop of York - who didn't really want the responsibility and freed the town of Masham from the laws involved by this court.

Laws? Yep. Stuff like not going to church, drunkenness, swearing, not having one's children baptized, telling fortunes, getting friendly with Roman Catholic priests. Etc. All the other laws of the land, of course, still stand in Masham - they not being Peculier.

At any rate, Old Peculier has survived ownership by Scottish & Newcastle when the family sold the Theakston brewery in 1983 and benefited from S&N's marketing muscle to send the bottled version to the US and farther. When the Theakston family bought the company back in 2003 they benefited from the overseas popularity and British Isles notoriety of Old Peculier and it has become a mainstay of their new empire.

By the way, family member Paul Theakston didn't want to sell the company and in 1992 set up a rival Black Sheep brewery in Masham which is still going strong, thank you very much. But it doesn't make a Strong Ale. Sigh.

Winter Warmers and Christmas Ales

BritishWinterWarmerA seasonal subset of the British Old Ale / Strong Ale. These have additional fruit or spices and are produced mainly for consumption while sitting by a blazing fire. They usually have a bit more alcohol to support the deeper maltiness and extra flavors.

Spices may be nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, clove, bog myrtle, anise, cardamom, coriander, orange, ginger, bay leaves, or many other odd flavors including pine needles and candied fruits. Additional sugars are sometimes added such as brown sugar, Belgian candy sugar, molasses, treacle, etc.

Bob's Pick:

Logo-HopBackHop Back Pickled Santa - Salisbury, Wiltshire, England regional brewery - Lots of fruit, malt, and alcohol. 6%


Rare Gems:

Grainstore Winter Nip - Oakham, Rutland, England microbrewery - Mahogony almost-barley-wine with fruit and alcohol coming through strong. 7.3%

Main Street Rudolph's Revenge - Evansville, IN brewpub - Deeply complex. Belgian yeast and candy sugar give it a Tripel character. Dark Scottish malts. Nobel hops. Everything comes through in nuances. 9.5%

Logo-NorthCotswold-BlitzenNorth Cotswold Blitzen - Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire, England - Said to contain "everything that goes into a Christmas pudding except eggs, flour, and a sixpence". Very complex. Sultanas, plums, spices. 6.0%

Olde Swan Christmas Cracker - Dudley, Birmingham, England brewpub - Very strong with sharp edges. Brewery opened in 2001 and their barley wine has not had long enough to mature. Sold only at their tap house on Christmas day although sometimes also available at beer festivals.

RCH Santa Fe - West Hewish, Somerset, England - Brown porterish. Bittersweet. 7.3%

Titanic Wreckage - Stoke-On-Trent, Staffordshire, England - Incredibly complex fruity. Citric and nut notes. 7.2%

Widely Available (sometimes):

Logo-Anchor-OurSpecialAleAnchor Our Special Ale - San Francisco regional brewery - Each year Anchor produces a Winter Warmer with a different recipe. They are dated and suitable for laying down. 2004 was quite piney but other years run the gauntlet. 5 to 7%

BridgePort Ebenezer Ale - Portland, OR brewpub and regional brewery - Deep red. Plums, cherries, brown sugar, and some chocolate. 6.4%

Hitachino Nest New Year Celebration Ale - Ibaraki, Japan megabrewery - Orange, Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Vanilla. 9%

Young's Winter Warmer - Bedford, England megabrewer - Very dark red. Roasty. Raisins. Caramel. Example of pure cane sugar adding candy notes. 5%

Dribs and Drams

Calendar markings: The annual Brewers Guild of Indiana Winterfest at the Indiana State Fairgrounds is scheduled for Jan 31, 2015. The Bloomington Craft Beer Festival is April 11th and the summer Microbrew Festival is July 18th and is moving to Military Park in downtown Indy.

Mad Anthony Brewing’s Mad Brewers Challenge found homebrewers Kurt Conwell and Brian Spaulding at the top with their Angry Dragon Imperial IPA. It will go on tap at the Fort Wayne, Warsaw and Auburn houses on Wednesday, Dec. 17. 8% ABV, 110 IBU.

The Kokomo Tribune says Sunday sales and cold beer at gas stations should be passed this year (“should be” not “probably will be”). OpEd

Summit City Brewerks in Fort Wayne is now open Thurs through Sun. 40 taps. In the old Bunn candy bar factory at East Berry and Anthony Blvd.
Thurs: 4-10pm; Fri: 4p-midnight; Sat: 2pm-midnight; Sun: noon-6pm.

The Brewers Guild of Indiana has a new URL and a new fancy look. link

It might seem like IndianaBeer has gone dormant but we haven’t. We’re planning a revamp early next year. Quaff on.

Huh? A How to Taste a Beer article at

A startup brewery in Garland, Texas, is offering free beer for life for a $2,000 kickstarter pledge. The down side is you would have to move to Texas. article

A startup brewery in Boston has filed a state ABC complaint about local distributors selling taps. article

Headline: 10 Things the Beer Industry Won’t Tell You. link

Been saving these Xmas pics all year. Don’t worry, I’ve already started saving Oktoberfest pictures for next September.

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