Style Details

Old Ale
Strong Bri­tish Ale
BJCP Style Code
17 B
Light amber to very dark red­dish-brown color (most are fair­ly dark). Age and oxi­da­ti­on may dar­ken the beer fur­ther. May be almost opaque (if not, should be clear). Mode­ra­te to low cream- to light tan-colo­red head; may be adver­se­ly affec­ted by alco­hol and age.
Mal­ty-sweet with frui­ty esters, often with a com­plex blend of dried-fruit, vinous, cara­mel­ly, molas­ses, nut­ty, tof­fee, light treacle, and/or other spe­cial­ty malt aro­mas. Some alco­hol and oxi­da­tive notes are accep­ta­ble, akin to tho­se found in Sher­ry or Port. Hop aro­mas not usual­ly pre­sent due to exten­ded aging.
Medi­um to high malt cha­rac­ter with a luscious malt com­ple­xi­ty, often with nut­ty, cara­mel­ly and/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. Diace­tyl low to none. Some wood-aged or blen­ded ver­si­ons may have a lac­tic or Brett­anomy­ces cha­rac­ter; but this is optio­nal and should not be too strong. Any aci­di­ty or tan­nin from age should be well-inte­gra­ted and con­tri­bu­te to com­ple­xi­ty in the fla­vor pro­fi­le, not be a domi­nant experience.
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.
Over­all Impression
An ale of mode­ra­te to fair­ly signi­fi­cant alco­ho­lic strength, big­ger than stan­dard beers, though usual­ly not as strong or rich as bar­ley­wi­ne. Often til­ted towards a mal­tier balan­ce. “It should be a warm­ing beer of the type that is best drunk in half pints by a warm fire on a cold winter’s night” – Micha­el Jackson.
Typi­cal 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. May be aged in wood, but should not have a strong wood character.
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 draught ones that are simi­lar aged milds of around 4.5%, and stron­ger ones that are often 6-8% or more.
Strength and cha­rac­ter varies wide­ly. The pre­do­mi­nant defi­ning qua­li­ty for this style is the impres­si­on of age, which can mani­fest its­elf in dif­fe­rent ways (com­ple­xi­ty, lac­tic, Brett, oxi­da­ti­on, lea­ther, vinous qua­li­ties, etc.). Even if the­se qua­li­ties are other­wi­se faults, if the resul­ting cha­rac­ter of the beer is still plea­sant­ly drinkable and com­plex, then tho­se cha­rac­te­ristics are accep­ta­ble. In no way should tho­se allo­wa­ble cha­rac­te­ristics be inter­pre­ted as making an und­rink­ab­ly off beer as somehow in style. Old Pecu­lier is a fair­ly uni­que type of beer that is quite dif­fe­rent than other Old Ales.
Com­mer­cial Examples
Bur­ton Bridge Olde Expen­si­ve, Gale’s Pri­ze Old Ale, Gree­ne King Strong Suf­folk Ale, Mar­s­ton Owd Roger, Theaks­ton Old Peculier
Ori­gi­nal Gravity
1.055 - 1.088 SG
Final Gra­vi­ty
1.015 - 1.022 SG
10 - 22 SRM
5.0 - 9.0 %vol
30 - 60 IBU