Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Insights into Strong Ales, Barleywines Old Ales and the Double IPA

The other day I was drinking Stone's Double Bastard Ale, an American strong ale, and I realized I didn't have the greatest understanding of the differences between strong ales, barleywines, old ales and, to a lesser extent, double IPAs. In my mind, they were always kind of grouped into the group of beers that have lots of hops, lots of malt and lots of alcohol! I decided to do some research into the real differences between these beers.

To the best of my knowledge, there are two main organizations which provide beer style guidelines. The Brewer's Association (BA) provides style guidelines "as a reference for brewers and beer competition organizers."  The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) uses a similar set of guidelines, but there are some differences from the BA's guidelines.  For my purposes they are similar enough, so I am going to use the BA style guidelines for my comparison.

The first think I noticed while looking at the BA style guidelines (which you can download from their website from the link above) was that there wasn't an entry for American Strong Ale.  The closest I could find was English Strong Ale.  The description of English Strong Ale is close, but doesn't quite accurately describe Stone's Double Bastard or Arrogant Bastard Ales, due to the aggressiveness of the hops used in the beers.  American Strong Ales must be considered "Out Of Category", which doesn't do me much help.  Basically, all that it tells us is that an American Strong Ale is an American style, high alcohol beer which doesn't fit into the barleywine, old ale, double IPA categories.

According to the BA, an American Barleywine is amber to deep copper in color, a full bodied 8.4-12% ABV, and can be anywhere from 60-100 International Bitterness Units (IBUs).  The high hop bitterness is balanced by fruity esters.  Some examples of American Barleywines are Sierra Nevada Bigfoot and Avery Hog Heaven Barleywine. 
Picture from www.sierranevada.com
Picture from www.averybrewing.com

The BA style guidelines lists the Imperial/Double IPA as golden to medium copper in color, medium-high to full bodied, clocking in somewhere between 7.5-10.5% ABV, and containing 65-100 IBUs.  Double IPAs are a beer designed to show off the flavors and aromas can provide.  They typically tend to have a heavy malt backbone to attempt to balance out the hops.  Prime examples are Victory Hop Wallop and Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA.
From www.victorybeer.com
From www.dogfish.com

The BA describes Old Ales as dark amber to brown beers that are medium to full bodied, ranging between 6-9%.  They typically start between 30-65 IBUs.  There shouldn't be aroma from the hops, and minimal to medium in the flavor.  Instead, Old Ales smell and taste of fruity esters,  and when aged properly, can exhibit a rich and wine-like oxidation character.  Typical examples are Founders Curmudgeon and Great Divide Hibernation Ale.
from www.foundersbrewing.com
from www.greatdivide.com

Thanks for reading!  If you have anything to add or questions, feel free to use the comments below!

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