17B. Old Ale

Overall Impression

A stronger-than-average English ale, though usually not as strong or rich as an English Barley Wine, but usually malty. Warming. Shows positive maturation effects of a well-kept, aged beer.


Deep amber to very dark reddish-brown color, but most are fairly dark. Age and oxidation may darken the beer further. Clear, but can be almost opaque. Moderate to low cream- to light tan-colored head; retention average to poor.


Malty-sweet with fruity esters, often with a complex blend of dried fruit, vinous, caramel, molasses, toffee, light treacle, or other specialty malt aromas. Some alcohol and nutty oxidative notes are acceptable, akin to those found in Sherry, Port, or Madeira. Hop aroma not usually present.


Medium to high malt character with a luscious malt complexity, often with nut, caramel, or molasses-like flavors. Light chocolate or roasted malt flavors are optional, but should never be prominent. Balance is often malty-sweet, but may be well hopped; the impression of bitterness often depends on amount of aging. Moderate to high fruity esters are common, and may take on a dried-fruit or vinous character. The finish may vary from dry to somewhat sweet. Extended aging may contribute oxidative flavors similar to a fine old Sherry, Port, or Madeira. Alcoholic strength should be evident, though not overwhelming. Low diacetyl optional.


Medium to full, chewy body, although older examples may be lower in body due to continued attenuation during conditioning. Alcohol warmth is often evident and always welcome. Low to moderate carbonation, depending on age and conditioning. Light acidity may be present, as well as some tannin if wood-aged; both are optional.


Strength and character vary widely. The predominant defining quality for this style is the impression of age, which can manifest itself in different ways (complexity, oxidation, leather, vinous qualities, etc.). Many of these qualities are otherwise faults, but if the resulting character of the beer is pleasantly drinkable and complex, then those characteristics are acceptable. In no way should those allowable characteristics be interpreted as making an undrinkably off-flavored beer as somehow in style. Old Peculier is a well-known but fairly unique beer that is quite different than other Old Ales.


Historically, an aged ale used as stock ales for blending or enjoyed at full strength (stale or stock refers to beers that were aged or stored for a significant period of time). There are at least two definite types in Britain today, weaker, unaged draught ones that are similar to milds of around 4.5%, and stronger aged ones that are often 6-8% or more.

Characteristic Ingredients

Composition varies, although generally similar to British Strong Ales. The age character is the biggest driver of the final style profile, which is more handling than brewing.

Style Comparison

Roughly overlapping the British Strong Ale and the lower end of the English Barley Wine styles, but always having an aged quality. The distinction between an Old Ale and a Barley Wine is somewhat arbitrary above 7% ABV, and generally means having a more significant aged quality.

Vital Statistics


30 - 60


10 - 22


1.055 - 1.088


1.015 - 1.022


5.5% - 9%

Commercial Examples

Avery Old Jubilation, Berlina Old Ale, Burton Bridge Olde Expensive, Gale’s Prize Old Ale, Greene King Strong Suffolk Ale, Marston Owd Roger, Theakston Old Peculier.

Past Revision

Old Ale (2015)