Barleywine, Old Ale, Strong Ale, etc.

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by 57md, Jul 1, 2017.

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  1. 57md

    57md Poo-Bah (2,983) Aug 22, 2011 Pennsylvania
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    In today's beer world, are there really appreciable differences between beers designated as Barleywine, Old Ale and Strong Ale?

    It seems to me that the big difference comes across these styles with the group that are hop-forward "American" versions and the more malt driven "English" versions.
     
    #1 57md, Jul 1, 2017
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2017
  2. Wiffler27

    Wiffler27 Meyvn (1,298) Aug 16, 2009 New Jersey
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    it's probably just me but in my head through my experiences i see them as big beers, almost always over 9% if not into 10%+ range.

    in my head:
    -Barleywines are big beers; sweet, hoppy, and malty. lively and large
    -Old Ales are more malty and dry but big beers as well
    -actually haven't had a Strong Ale

    i actually really like American Barleywines. they're like giant double IPAs yet are usually a clear separate style.

    In the winter of 2015 I worked exclusively 3pm-11pm from November 1 - January 31. My whole sleep schedule changed drastically as well as my beer consumption. I would sleep from 4am-12pm and nothing hit the spot like a nice Barleywine when I got home. I drank Bigfoot and Old Ruffian nearly every night after work. For some reason it just hit the spot after a long day of work and getting home around midnight in the winter.
     
  3. gopens44

    gopens44 Poo-Bah (2,359) Aug 9, 2010 Virginia
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    I'd say there's more overlap between Old Ale and Strong Ale (not Belgian though - that's completely different). Very malt forward, usually a bit of caramel, maybe dark fruit. But a barley wine (most notably an American style) is it's own beast. Nice balance of hops and a strong malty backbone. English style probably a touch less heat, far less hop character overall, but clearly the bittering effect of hops is present. I love American barleywines for pretty much the same reasons as what @Wiffler27 stated but can take or leave the others, as I usually find the balance out of whack. On a side note, the out of whack-ness is why an aged DIPA doesn't only not turn into a barley wine, but why it's not too good either.
     
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  4. SFACRKnight

    SFACRKnight Meyvn (1,467) Jan 20, 2012 Colorado
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    Strong ales fall somewhere in between barleywine, imperial stout, and possibly dipa it seems. Olde ale comes across as barleywine's little brother.
     
  5. TongoRad

    TongoRad Poo-Bah (2,767) Jun 3, 2004 New Jersey
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    Rule of thumb is once an Old Ale hits double digits it's a barleywine; more of a gravity thing than a recipe change. Kind of like a BSDA becoming a Quad. So your last sentence is just looking at it from the other direction.
     
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  6. bbtkd

    bbtkd Poo-Bah (8,420) Sep 20, 2015 South Dakota
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    I like old ales and strong ales, but I don't care for barleywines due to the bitterness.
     
  7. BriantheBeerHound

    BriantheBeerHound Initiate (55) May 4, 2015 Oklahoma

    According to something I read on wikipedia, the short answer is no; there's no discernible difference between Old Ale and Barleywine, and "Strong Ale" is even more nebulous as to not mean anything at all outside of what a small number of people might agree on.

    Now, in my experience, there is a difference:

    Barelywine: Almost always nearly as strong as actual wine (11-13%), tend towards a reddish amber, very hop-forward, but still with lots of malt character. Typically just a hint of sweetness. As the "barley" name implies, I rarely if ever have seen examples with any sort of adjunct.

    Old Ale: Most of what I've had is typically in closer to a Wee Heavy in body and color; dark brown/nearly black, malty, hops present but doesn't carry the flavor, and by far the sweetest. Some that I've had (Curmudgeon) are even made with molasses as an adjunct, and the bourbon barrel aging. As someone said, these top out around 10%

    Strong Ale: Again, probably the most nebulous of these three. These are VERY dry (no sweetness), tend to be a brown-amber (not dark brown, but may be reddish), and EXTREMELY hoppy (the most of the 3) and bitter. The maltiness is high, but the hops overshadow it more than the other 2. These tend to be medium-bodied compared to the first 2 styles, and ABV hovers in the high 7-8%, but that's not an absolute of course. So despite the name, they're probably the weakest of the 3. They're almost like a lighterbodied dopplebock, with more hops, about the same malt character, and not sweet at all. American examples are the hoppiest by far I've seen.

    Hope this helps. I haven't had a terrible lot of beers in any one of these styles, but each one has had appreciable differences. Lots of beer styles (brown ales, amber, etc) are really ambiguous and catch-all by nature, and these are one of them
     
  8. MacMalt

    MacMalt Poo-Bah (4,130) Jan 28, 2015 New Jersey
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    I'll be reviewing an American Strong Ale from Weyerbacher for NBS tomorrow. Looking forward to it!
     
  9. beergoot

    beergoot Poo-Bah (5,948) Oct 11, 2010 Colorado
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    Well, there's this old 2014 BA thread on the matter...

    And this BJCP 2008 Style guide take on things...

    Plus other online opinions such as this...

    From my perspective, the "Reader's Digest" version amounts to they are all high ABV and malty beers with strong ales near the bottom (ABV-wise) with old ales in the middle and barleywines on top...

    And with plenty of blurring of the lines and definitions to add to the craziness of it all (he writes as he nips on a 2014 version of North Coast Old Stock Ale)...
     
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  10. Scott17Taylor

    Scott17Taylor Poo-Bah (1,779) Oct 28, 2013 Iowa
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    They're definitely flavorful. Which one did you have?
     
  11. Scott17Taylor

    Scott17Taylor Poo-Bah (1,779) Oct 28, 2013 Iowa
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    Olde ales are a lower attenuated barleywine, don't ferment to as high of alcohol, so there's usually more sweetness and a less pronounced bitterness. I'm actually not sure if strong ales have an official definition.
     
  12. McFinniganOfTheFinnigans

    McFinniganOfTheFinnigans Initiate (111) Apr 20, 2017 Maine

    From Redlight Redlight in Orlando was something French or Belgian or German? Was 14%. Am I drinking right? Yes.
     
  13. Scott17Taylor

    Scott17Taylor Poo-Bah (1,779) Oct 28, 2013 Iowa
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    Never heard of it, but I'm glad you're first barleywine was a good one. It's one of my favorite styles.
     
  14. TongoRad

    TongoRad Poo-Bah (2,767) Jun 3, 2004 New Jersey
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    About the Strong Ale, just think of it as a ramped-up Pale Ale, whether that be American or English.

    Enjoy that Old Stock- I'm feelin' kinda jealous atm :slight_smile:. Between that and the Bell's North Coast, I don't think one even needs to look elsewhere.
     
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  15. zid

    zid Meyvn (1,189) Feb 15, 2010 New York
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    It's my opinion that any stated differences are usually a result of either: anecdotal impressions, cherry picking evidence, or romanticized ideal.

    Here's a quote from Ron Pattinson (in regards to any historical approaches):
    I would also add Burton Ale and Winter Warmer to the group considering the name games that have been played.

    Having said that, there are certain beers that are associated with one of those "styles" that don't feel appropriate being associated with the others. An example would be a 5% beer that people could consider a Burton Ale, Strong Ale, or Old Ale... it would be a stretch to consider such a beer a barley wine (or at least it would feel like one to me). At the same time, a barley wine could be as low as 7% even though most here would probably never think of them like that (as if Adnams didn't have a say in this).

    Here's where I'll lose all credibility to some: It's also my opinion that the line between the so-called American and English barley wine isn't nearly as cut and dry as people here treat it.
     
  16. TongoRad

    TongoRad Poo-Bah (2,767) Jun 3, 2004 New Jersey
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    You don't lose credibility just because we may disagree on that one point. :sunglasses:

    But, yeah, it is worth pointing out that Old Ale is more a process than a style, as it's historically founded, and can be any color or gravity as a result. Thus Old Peculier.
     
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  17. zid

    zid Meyvn (1,189) Feb 15, 2010 New York
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    Just note that I didn't say that there couldn't be legitimate differences distinguishing certain "American" and "English" barley wines... but rather that the line between them (as a group) isn't as clear cut as people here tend to portray. I mean, if we can't all agree on Old Foghorn, then there's got to be some confusion or blurriness (even if you yourself don't feel torn about that beer). :slight_smile:

    Do you know of anything regarding today's Old Peculier that links it with an "old ale process" though?
     
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  18. TongoRad

    TongoRad Poo-Bah (2,767) Jun 3, 2004 New Jersey
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    Hmm..as to Old Peculiar, maybe our English members can answer that better. It is my understanding, through certain articles I've read, that it is considered an 'Old Ale' as that is thought of today. How that is linked with the past I cannot answer. But will also point out that most 'modern' Old Ales don't contain the 'funkiness' and sourness that the original ones would've had. My guess is that the difference is that it is conditioned in house, rather than in the pubs as a cask ale or mild would be.

    For English vs American, I may be unique in this regard although it makes perfect sense to me: I hold yeast signature to be more of a defining factor than hops. We do it with German and Belgian ales, why not English?
     
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  19. zid

    zid Meyvn (1,189) Feb 15, 2010 New York
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    I really like that (unique around here) perspective, but I don't know if that proves your point or mine. Perhaps both, but then I'm probably being too generous to my nonsense. :wink:
     
  20. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Poo-Bah (1,817) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan
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    One of the best Barleywines I have had was Young's Old Nick on cask, which clocked in at a whopping 7.2%.
     
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  21. MistaRyte

    MistaRyte Zealot (551) Jan 14, 2008 Virginia
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    This... While at an engagement party yesterday, I had an RJ Rockers Bell Ringer (double pale ale). It wasn't on my untappd list, so I checked it in... this "double pale ale" is listed as an "American Strong ale" on untappd. So I'm going to equate strong ale with just "double pale" from now on.
     
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  22. marquis

    marquis Champion (801) Nov 20, 2005 England

    You are making the assumption that your samples of each "style" were representative of the whole.
    Martyn Cornell wrote about the subject a few years ago.Like me he thinks that you just can't nail down styles which have been around for so long.Very much worth reading :
    http://zythophile.co.uk/2010/09/14/so-what-is-the-difference-between-barley-wine-and-old-ale/
    BarleyWine, Wee Heavy and ESB have been assumed to be styles. But they were just names for individual beers when introduced.
     
  23. Prince_Casual

    Prince_Casual Disciple (350) Nov 3, 2012 District of Columbia
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    Old (Stock) Ale traditionally means that a portion of high abv brew was stored in a oak casks from the previous brewing season(s), then blended with fresh beer (usually of a lower abv like a mild or ESB). The Old Stock would kick it up with higher ABV, some woody notes, and maybe some brett. This was done onsite typically, like your bartender would give you a couple inches of Old Stock (probably relatively flat) out of a barrel, then top you off with some presumably more carbed keg or cask ale.

    Some places like the Bruery Anniversary beers have used a solera method (only partially emptying the barrels when blending, so in theory some % of the brew is from the original batch). Traditionally brett could get into the Old Stock, so it's not unheard of to get some light brett character (since the fermentation was close to efficient before the beer went into the barrels, it's not as strong as a 100% brett beer).

    Strong Ale and Barleywine have tons of overlap. Arrogant Bastard vs Bigfoot, of course there's differences in the brewing choices used, but those are comparable beers IMO/IME.
     
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  24. marquis

    marquis Champion (801) Nov 20, 2005 England

    There is a danger of confusing terms from different periods of time. Mild simply meant "not aged" ,it could be and usually was a strong brew. ESB is a name dreamt up by Fuller's for their new beer they were introducing.
     
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  25. Prince_Casual

    Prince_Casual Disciple (350) Nov 3, 2012 District of Columbia
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    Good point! I was thinking of the more standard Bitter, did not know ESB was a creation of Fuller's. I actually at one point sold Fuller's along with a couple beers and many wines. We didn't get much training or history on Fullers, most places that carried it had the loyal customers but it was never really featured or something I 'sold' to whoever was making the decisions. It was just kinda there.
     
  26. marquis

    marquis Champion (801) Nov 20, 2005 England

    Actually,Fuller's tried to trade mark ESB but were refused on the grounds that Extra Special Bitter was too general a term.
     
  27. Wasatch

    Wasatch Poo-Bah (6,831) Jun 8, 2005 Colorado
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    Having a AleSmith Old Ale right now, pretty tasty.

    Cheers!
     
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  28. zid

    zid Meyvn (1,189) Feb 15, 2010 New York
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    Which they renamed and called a "stock ale"... so some things never change.
     
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  29. Wasatch

    Wasatch Poo-Bah (6,831) Jun 8, 2005 Colorado
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    Did not know that.

    Cheers!
     
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