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14. Strong Ale (>6% ABV) Guidelines

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14.1 Old Ale (English Strong Ale) [BJCP]

Aroma: Malty-sweet with fruity esters, often with a complex blend of dried-fruit, vinous, caramelly, molasses, nutty, toffee, 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.

Appearance: Light amber to very dark reddish-brown colour (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 coloured head; may be adversely affected by alcohol and age.

Flavour: Medium to high malt character with a luscious malt complexity, often with nutty, caramelly and/or molasses-like flavours. Light chocolate or roasted malt flavours 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 flavours 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 (enter as a specialty beer if it is).

Mouthfeel: 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.

Overall Impression: An ale of significant alcoholic strength, bigger than strong bitters and brown porters, though usually not as strong or rich as barleywine. Usually tilted toward a sweeter, 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.

History: A traditional English ale style, mashed at higher temperatures than strong ales to reduce attenuation, then aged at the brewery after primary fermentation (similar to the process used for historical porters). Often had agerelated character (lactic, Brett, oxidation, leather) associated with “stale” beers. 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). Winter warmers are a more modern style that are maltier, fuller-bodied, often darker beers that may be a brewery’s winter seasonal special offering.

Comments: Strength and character varies widely. Fits in the style space between normal gravity beers (strong bitters, brown porters) and barleywines. Can include winter warmers, strong dark milds, strong (and perhaps darker) bitters, blended strong beers (stock ale blended with a mild or bitter), and lower gravity versions of English barleywines. Many English examples, particularly winter warmers, are lower than 6% ABV.

Ingredients: Generous quantities of well-modified pale malt (generally English in origin, though not necessarily so), along with judicious quantities of caramel malts and other specialty character malts. Some darker examples suggest that dark malts (e.g., chocolate, black malt) may be appropriate, though sparingly so as to avoid an overly roasted character. Adjuncts (such as molasses, treacle, invert sugar or dark sugar) are often used, as are starchy adjuncts (maize, flaked barley, wheat) and malt extracts. Hop variety is not as important, as the relative balance and aging process negate much of the varietal character. British ale yeast that has low attenuation, but can handle higher alcohol levels, is traditional.

Vital Statistics:
OG FG IBUs SRM ABV
1060-1090 1015-1022 30-60 10-22 6.0-9.0%

Commercial Examples: Gale’s Prize Old Ale, Burton Bridge Olde Expensive, Marston Owd Roger, Greene King Olde Suffolk Ale, J.W. Lees Moonraker, Harviestoun Old Engine Oil, Fuller’s Vintage Ale, Harvey’s Elizabethan Ale, Theakston Old Peculier (peculiar at OG 1.057), Young's Winter Warmer, Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby Mild, Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome, Fuller’s 1845, Fuller’s Old Winter Ale, Great Divide Hibernation Ale,
Cooperstown Pride of Milford Special Ale, Coniston Old Man Ale

14.2 Strong Scotch Ale [BJCP]

Aroma: Deeply malty, with caramel often apparent. Peaty, earthy and/or smoky secondary aromas may also be present, adding complexity. Caramelization often is mistaken for diacetyl, which should be low to none. Low to moderate esters and alcohol are often present in stronger versions. Hops are very low to none.

Appearance: Light copper to dark brown colour, often with deep ruby highlights. Clear. Usually has a large tan head, which may not persist in stronger versions. Legs may be evident in stronger versions.

Flavour: Richly malty with kettle caramelization often apparent (particularly in stronger versions). Hints of roasted malt or smoky flavour may be present, as may some nutty character, all of which may last into the finish. Hop flavours and bitterness are low to medium-low, so malt impression should dominate. Diacetyl is low to none, although caramelization may sometimes be mistaken for it. Low to moderate esters and alcohol are usually present. Esters may suggest plums, raisins or dried fruit. The palate is usually full and sweet, but the finish may be sweet to medium-dry (from light use of roasted barley).

Mouthfeel: Medium-full to full-bodied, with some versions (but not all) having a thick, chewy viscosity. A smooth, alcoholic warmth is usually present and is quite welcome since it balances the malty sweetness. Moderate carbonation.

Overall Impression: Rich, malty and usually sweet, which can be suggestive of a dessert. Complex secondary malt flavours prevent a one-dimensional impression. Strength and maltiness can vary.

History/Comments: Also known as a “wee heavy.” Fermented at cooler temperatures than most ales, and with lower hopping rates, resulting in clean, intense malt flavours. Well suited to the region of origin, with abundant malt and cool fermentation and aging temperature. Hops, which are not native to Scotland and formerly expensive to import, were kept to a minimum.

Ingredients: Well-modified pale malt, with up to 3% roasted barley. May use some crystal malt for colour adjustment; sweetness usually comes not from crystal malts rather from low hopping, high mash temperatures, and kettle caramelization. A small proportion of smoked malt may add depth, though a peaty character (sometimes perceived as earthy or smoky) may also originate from the yeast and native water. Hop presence is minimal, although English varieties are most authentic. Fairly soft water is typical.

Vital Statistics:
OG FG IBUs SRM ABV
1070-1130 1018-1056 17-35 14-25 6.5-10.0%

Commercial Examples: McEwan's Scotch Ale, Belhaven Wee Heavy, MacAndrew's Scotch Ale, Traquair House Ale, Orkney Skull Splitter, Broughton Old Jock, Scotch du Silly, Gordon Highland Scotch Ale, Founders Dirty Bastard


14.3 English Barleywine [BJCP]

Aroma: Very rich and strongly malty, often with a caramel-like aroma. May have moderate to strong fruitiness, often with a dried-fruit character. English hop aroma may range from mild to assertive. Alcohol aromatics may be low to moderate, but never harsh, hot or solventy. The intensity of these aromatics often subsides with age. The aroma may have a rich character including bready, toasty, toffee, molasses, and/or treacle notes. Aged versions may have a sherry-like quality, possibly vinous or port-like aromatics, and generally more muted malt aromas. Low to no diacetyl.

Appearance: Colour may range from rich gold to very dark amber or even dark brown. Often has ruby highlights, but should not be opaque. Low to moderate off-white head; may have low head retention. May be cloudy with chill haze at cooler temperatures, but generally clears to good to brilliant clarity as it warms. The colour may appear to have great depth, as if viewed through a thick glass lens. High alcohol and viscosity may be visible in “legs” when beer is swirled in a glass.

Flavour: Strong, intense, complex, multi-layered malt flavours ranging from bready and biscuity through nutty, deep toast, dark caramel, toffee, and/or molasses. Moderate to high malty sweetness on the palate, although the finish may be moderately sweet to moderately dry (depending on aging). Some oxidative or vinous flavours may be present, and often complex alcohol flavours should be evident. Alcohol flavours shouldn’t be harsh, hot or solventy. Moderate to fairly high fruitiness, often with a dried-fruit character. Hop bitterness may range from just enough for balance to a firm presence; balance therefore ranges from malty to somewhat bitter. Low to moderately high hop flavour (usually UK varieties). Low to no diacetyl.

Mouthfeel: Full-bodied and chewy, with a velvety, luscious texture (although the body may decline with long conditioning). A smooth warmth from aged alcohol should be present, and should not be hot or harsh. Carbonation may be low to moderate, depending on age and conditioning.

Overall Impression: The richest and strongest of the English Ales. A showcase of malty richness and complex, intense flavours. The character of these ales can change significantly over time; both young and old versions should be appreciated for what they are. The malt profile can vary widely; not all examples will have all possible flavours or aromas.

History: Usually the strongest ale offered by a brewery, and in recent years many commercial examples are now vintage-dated. Normally aged significantly prior to release. Often associated with the winter or holiday season.

Comments: Although often a hoppy beer, the English Barleywine places less emphasis on hop character than the American Barleywine and features English hops. English versions can be darker, maltier, fruitier, and feature richer specialty malt flavours than American Barleywines.

Ingredients: Well-modified pale malt should form the backbone of the grist, with judicious amounts of caramel malts. Dark malts should be used with great restraint, if at all, as most of the colour arises from a lengthy boil. English hops such as Northdown, Target, East Kent Goldings and Fuggles. Characterful English yeast.

Vital Statistics:
OG FG IBUs SRM ABV
1080-1120 1018-1030 35-70 8-22 8-12+%

Commercial Examples: Thomas Hardy’s Ale, Burton Bridge Thomas Sykes Old Ale, Robinson’s Old Tom, J.W. Lee’s Vintage Harvest Ale, Fuller’s Golden Pride, Young’s Old Nick (unusual in its 7.2% ABV), Whitbread Gold Label, Lakefront Beer Line, Heavyweight Old Salty


14.4 American Barleywine [BJCP]

Aroma: Very rich and intense maltiness. Hop character moderate to assertive and often showcases citrusy or resiny American varieties (although other varieties, such as floral, earthy or spicy English varieties or a blend of varieties, may be used). Low to moderately strong fruity esters and alcohol aromatics. Malt character may be sweet, caramelly, bready, or fairly neutral. However, the intensity of aromatics often subsides with age. No diacetyl.

Appearance: Colour may range from light amber to medium copper; may rarely be as dark as light brown. Often has ruby highlights. Moderately-low to large off-white to light tan head; may have low head retention. May be cloudy with chill haze at cooler temperatures, but generally clears to good to brilliant clarity as it warms. The colour may appear to have great depth, as if viewed through a thick glass lens. High alcohol and viscosity may be visible in “legs” when beer is swirled in a glass.

Flavour: Strong, intense malt flavour with noticeable bitterness. Moderately low to moderately high malty sweetness on the palate, although the finish may be somewhat sweet to quite dry (depending on aging). Hop bitterness may range from moderately strong to aggressive. While strongly malty, the balance should always seem bitter. Moderate to high hop flavour (any variety). Low to moderate fruity esters. Noticeable alcohol presence, but sharp or solventy alcohol flavours are undesirable. Flavours will smooth out and decline over time, but any oxidized character should be muted (and generally be masked by the hop character). May have some bready or caramelly malt flavours, but these should not be high. Roasted or burnt malt flavours are inappropriate. No diacetyl.

Mouthfeel: Full-bodied and chewy, with a velvety, luscious texture (although the body may decline with long conditioning). Alcohol warmth should be present, but not be excessively hot. Should not be syrupy and underattenuated. Carbonation may be low to moderate, depending on age and conditioning.

Overall Impression: A well-hopped American interpretation of the richest and strongest of the English ales. The hop character should be evident throughout, but does not have to be unbalanced. The alcohol strength and hop bitterness often combine to leave a very long finish.

History: Usually the strongest ale offered by a brewery, and in recent years many commercial examples are now vintage-dated. Normally aged significantly prior to release. Often associated with the winter or holiday season.

Comments: The American version of the Barleywine tends to have a greater emphasis on hop bitterness, flavour and aroma than the English Barleywine, and often features American hop varieties. Differs from an Imperial IPA in that the hops are not extreme, the malt is more forward, and the body is richer and more characterful.

Ingredients: Well-modified pale malt should form the backbone of the grist. Some specialty or character malts may be used. Dark malts should be used with great restraint, if at all, as most of the colour arises from a lengthy boil. Citrusy American hops are common, although any varieties can be used in quantity. Generally uses an attenuative American yeast.

Vital Statistics:
OG FG IBUs SRM ABV
1080-1120 1016-1030 50-120 10-19 8-12%

Commercial Examples: Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, Rogue Old Crustacean, Anchor Old Foghorn, Victory Old Horizontal, Avery Hog Heaven Barleywine, Bell’s Third Coast Old Ale, Three Floyds Behemoth, Stone Old Guardian, Bridgeport Old Knucklehead, Hair of the Dog Doggie Claws
 
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