An ale of respectable alcoholic strength, traditionally bottled-conditioned and cellared. Can have a wide range of interpretations, but most will have varying degrees of malty richness, late hops and bitterness, fruity esters, and alcohol warmth. Judges should allow for a significant range in character, as long as the beer is within the alcohol strength range and has an interesting ‘British’ character, it likely fits the style. The malt and adjunct flavors and intensity can vary widely, but any combination should result in an agreeable palate experience.
Deep gold to dark reddish-brown color (many are fairly dark). Generally clear, although darker versions may be almost opaque. Moderate to low cream- to light tan-colored head; average retention.
Medium to high malt character often rich with nutty, toffee, or caramel flavors. Light chocolate notes are sometimes found in darker beers. May have interesting flavor complexity from brewing sugars. Balance is often malty, but may be well hopped, which affects the impression of maltiness. Moderate fruity esters are common, often with a dark fruit or dried fruit character. The finish may vary from medium dry to somewhat sweet. Alcoholic strength should be evident, though not overwhelming. Diacetyl low to none, and is generally not desirable.
Malty-sweet with fruity esters, often with a complex blend of dried-fruit, caramel, nuts, toffee, and/or other specialty malt aromas. Some alcohol notes are acceptable, but shouldn’t be hot or solventy. Hop aromas can vary widely, but typically have earthy, resiny, fruity, and/or floral notes. The balance can vary widely, but most examples will have a blend of malt, fruit, hops, and alcohol in varying intensities.
Medium to full, chewy body. Alcohol warmth is often evident and always welcome. Low to moderate carbonation. Smooth texture.
As an entry category more than a style, the strength and character of examples can vary widely. Fits in the style space between normal gravity beers (strong bitters, brown ales, English porters) and barleywines. Can include pale malty-hoppy beers, English winter warmers, strong dark milds, smaller Burton ales, and other unique beers in the general gravity range that don’t fit other categories. Traditionally a bottle-conditioned product suitable for cellaring.
The heritage varies since this category generally reflects a grouping of unrelated minor styles with limited production. Some are historical recreations while others are modern. Some directly descend from older styles such as Burton ales, while others maintain a historical connection with older beers. As a grouping, the notion is relatively modern since beers of this strength category would not have been abnormal in past centuries. Do not use this category grouping to infer historical relationships between examples; this is almost a modern British specialty category where the ‘special’ attribute is alcohol level.
Grists vary, often based on pale malt with caramel and specialty 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. Sugary adjuncts are common, as are starchy adjuncts (maize, flaked barley, wheat). Finishing hops are traditionally English.
Significant overlap in gravity with old ales, but not having a stale or aged character. A wide range of interpretations is possible. Should not be as rich or strong as an English Barleywine. Stronger than the stronger everyday beers (strong bitters, brown ales, porters). More specialty malt and/or sugar character than American Strong Ales.