24 January 2008

Back to School #3 with Strong Ales - Old Ale, English Barleywine, and American Barleywine

Traditionally we haven't paid very much attention to style at Hoosier Beer Geek - our focus is usually first on finding beers that look tasty and drinking them. But a little knowledge never hurt anyone, and accordingly we've started trying to expand our knowledge of style. This is the third post in what we hope will become a regular series, in which we're passing on what we learned in our meetings at World Class Beverages to you. We continue our beer schooling with Strong Ales.

Strong Ales

Strong Ales are subdivided into three groups - Old Ale, English Barleywine, and American Barleywine. These beers are typically associated with winter, and have a high gravity.

Old Ale

According to the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP), old ales feature a malty-sweet nose, with fruity esters. They have a light amber to very dark reddish-brown color, and a flavor with medium to high malt character with a luscious malt complexity.

Old ales are a traditional English ale style, mashed at higher temperatures than strong ales to reduce attenuation, then aged at the brewery after primary fermentation.

Winter warmers are a more modern sytle of old ale that are maltier, fuller-bodied, and often darker. Of the three varieties of Strong Ales, old ales are the least strong, with sometimes lower alcohol.

Our example from this category was Theakston Old Peculiar, a beer that is distributed by Cavalier Distributing.

Theakston Old Peculier:
Jim: Malt, malt, and more malt in this baby. Not much of a nose. Heavy, dry caramel notes in the taste. Tastes like a session beer, which is not a bad thing. Would definitely buy this.
Mike: Whiskey nose, coca-cola look and soda pop lacing. Tastes of pepper, red meat, boullion(?!?), and chocolate. I took a second pour to double check the flavors I was picking up, and although they were a bit more faint with the second drink, they were still there. In any case, I found this one very agreeable.
Matt: Not much nose that I detected. The flavor was malty, and I could not taste alcohol to the extent that I had expected. I'll definitely be revisiting this one.

American Barleywine

Beers in the American Barleywine style feature a wide color range, and are rich, malty and hoppy. They are the richest and strongest of American ales, and, if meeting BJCP qualification, should be hoppy with and emphasis on American style hop characteristics. While strongly malty, the balance should always seem bitter. These beers should have a noticeable alcohol pressence.

Our example American Barleywine was from Michigan's Bells Brewery.

Bell's Third Coast Old Ale:
Jim: Heavy caramel nose and flavor. At bit boozy as well; can definitely taste the alcohol in this barleywine. Left a weird aftertaste in my mouth, but strangely, I still like it.
Matt: This one was sweeter than the Monster and had less hops and less alcohol taste. I'm still learning about the whole evaluation of taste regionally on the tongue, but this one struck me high on the back. I could be completely imagining that, but, ah, there it is.
Jason: Caramel flavors, less alcohol punch, not pcking up as much hops as the Monster Ale. This could become a staple beer in my fridge; very enjoyable.

English Barleywine

English Barleywines that meet BJCP guidelines are rich, malty, and fruity, with a wide color range. They are the richest and strongest English ales. They place an emphasis on malt character, but can also be hoppy - though only British hops are used in this variety of barleywine. This leads to less emphasis on the hop character than their American counterparts.

Our example English Barleywine was, ironically enough, from Brooklyn Brewery.

Brooklyn Monster Ale:
Jim: Brooklyn Monster Ale: Biscuity, hoppy/roasted malt nose with a flavor that follows suit. Really like this--one of Brooklyn Brewery's finer beers.
Jason: Brooklyn Monster Ale: bit of a hop nose, buttery scotch, and the alcohol is easy to find.
Mike: Copper/golden color, with a heavy head. Hoppy bite, tight with notes of pepper. Oddly enough, reminds me of all the good characteristics and flavors of smoking cigarettes (which I quit many years ago).

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Thanks again to Jim and Bob at World Class Beverages - particularly Bob, who provided the material for the majority of this lesson.

Click here to access all of the beer school series of articles.

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