Ales are beers fermented at room temperatures to produce a signature fruity aroma and complex flavor. Ales are generally best consumed when young or fresh with some notable exceptions, such as strong ales and barley wines. Ales should be served at cellar temperatures to let the complex flavors and aromas show through. Unfortunately, they are usually served quite cold in the United States.
Golden ales and Canadian style ales are generally straw to gold in color and exhibit a very light and crisp, almost lager-like character. They tend to have a low hop bitterness with a noticeable hop aroma and light malt sweetness.
Brown ales are similar to dark mild ales, but are generally fuller and stronger. English browns have a medium body, dry to sweet maltiness, very little hop flavor or aroma and low, but noticeable fruitiness. American browns are generally more assertive in hop aroma, flavor and bitterness. They have subdued fruitiness and often have a roasted malt character (caramel or chocolate like).
Bitters are the classic English style of draught ale. Bitters range from gold to copper in color and are characterized by the presence of English hop varieties such as Fuggles and East Kent Goldings. Ordinary bitter is the lightest of the style generally having low to medium hop aroma, flavor and bitterness, low to medium malty character and low alcohol content. Special bitter tends to be more robust than ordinary bitter. ESB is characterized by medium to strong hop aroma, flavor and bitterness, and a richer maltiness than special bitter.
English pale ales are traditionally golden to copper in color, have a low to medium maltiness, and a medium to strong hop aroma, flavor and bitterness derived from English hop varieties. Pale ales are not really “pale,” the term was originally used to distinguish these ales from porters and stouts. Indeed, it has become a label for many English-style ales, especially recent American interpretations of English ales, including some straw-colored beers.
American pale ales are often a bit heartier than their English counterparts, and full of the exquisite flowery taste and aroma of American hop varieties. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, the classic example of the style, uses Cascade hops, which contribute a subtle citrus flavor, bringing a refreshing fruitiness to the overall character. Besides hops, the brewers at Sierra Nevada use a careful blend of pale and crystal malts.
Amber/red ale is something of a hybrid style and can vary from light copper to light brown in color. American variety hops are generally used to produce a high hop aroma, flavor, and bitterness. This style has a medium to high malty character and has a medium to medium-high body.
India pale ales, or IPAs, are noted for their typically intense hop character and generous alcohol content. Alcoholic strength originally aided in preserving the beer for its voyage from Britain to the colonies, and a heavy dose of hops also served to keep the beer fresh and free of bacterial infections over those long dank spells upon the high seas. IPAs can range from pale gold to deep copper in color. Traditional English versions are typified by the use of English-variety hops. Recently, American versions of the style have pushed the edge of the envelope on hop intensity with the use of American variety hops such as Cascade, Centennial, and Columbus.
Scottish ales are golden amber to brown in color and are characterized by malty caramel flavors. Scottish light ales are light in body, low in alcohol, have a very low bitterness and no hop flavor or aroma. Scottish heavy ales have a stronger malt character, are slightly higher in alcohol and body than Scottish light ales and are balanced with perceptible bitterness. Scottish export ales are more robust than Scottish heavy ales. Scotch ales are similar to Scottish ales, but are much higher in alcohol and flavor intensity.
Scotch ales are overwhelmingly malty and full-bodied, with a clean and balanced alcohol flavor. Scotch ales may be peaty or smoky in character and may have a medium fruity aroma or flavor.
English strong ales are often referred to as old ales due to a long aging process that smooths the alcohol flavors and maltiness. Strong ales range from amber to brown in color. Because strong ales can reach 12% alcohol by volume, they certainly beg to be sipped and savored rather than tossed down with abandon.
Barley wine is often considered the most prized of all ales. You can tell just from the name that these are no ordinary beers. With the strength of wine and the complexity of cognac, these brews show extraordinary richness, depth, and alcoholic warmth. Like fine wines, these beers benefit from aging, which allows their intense flavors to marry and deepen. Barley wines are very similar to English strong ales, but are set apart by hop bitterness that can range from low to assertive and a high residual malty sweetness.
Porters, precursors to stouts, originated in England. Porters benefit from the use of black malt instead of roasted barley featured in stouts. Brown porters are medium to dark brown, have no strong burnt malt characters and have low to medium hop character. Robust porters are black in color, tend to have a roasted malt flavor, medium to high hop bitterness and low to medium hop flavor and aroma.
Stouts come in five major categories, Irish style dry, foreign style, sweet, oatmeal, and imperial. Stouts are black in color with the exception of oatmeal and imperial stouts, which can very from dark copper to black. Irish style dry stouts are low in alcohol, exhibit a dry roasted bitterness in the finish from roasted barley and have plenty of exuberant head retention. American versions of dry stout tend to be higher in alcohol, hop flavor and aroma. Foreign style stouts are similar to dry stouts, but have a higher alcohol content with an initial malt sweetness followed by strong roasted bitterness in the finish. Sweet stouts (or cream stouts) have low roasted bitterness, low hop character and are usually full bodied with a strong sweet flavor. Oatmeal stouts have medium roasted malt and caramel/chocolate character, moderate bitterness, and generally a mild oatmeal flavor. The addition of oatmeal to a stout sometimes produces a silky texture.Imperial stouts typically have alcohol contents exceeding 8 percent, with an extremely rich malty flavor balanced by assertive hopping, and a fruity-ester character.
Known to be one of the oldest styles of brewing in the world, the tradition of Belgian ales began as a means for Trappist monks to live from the work of their own hands, which is the founding rule of every abbey. Eventually, the monks began to make their beer available to the surrounding villages, and by the 19th century were selling the ales to parched local residents. Dubbels have a complex malt flavor and a sweet malt aroma. Tripels are lighter in color and have more alcoholic strength and flavor. Strong ales may be pale golden to dark brown, are high in alcohol due to the addition of Belgian candy sugar and may exhibit flavors similar to dubbels and tripels.
Wit (or white) is brewed with unmalted and/or malted wheat that produces a refreshingly dry tart flavor. Wits are usually spiced with coriander and bitter orange peel, and pale straw to gold in color. Lambics are some of the most distinctive beers in the world, making use of the natural yeast strains carried in the brewery air to inoculate with the unfiltered breezes that carry wild yeast. Thus, each lambic has a particular character that is completely unique. Fruit lambics are quite popular, and are known for their culinary versatility. Kriek (cherry) pairs nicely with dessert, say a pot de crème of chocolate and berries. Framboise (raspberry), pêche (peach), cassis (black current) also serve as delectable digestifs. Geueze is a blend of young and old lambics, yielding a tart acidity and a complex melding of flavors.