An ale of moderate to fairly significant alcoholic strength, bigger than standard beers, though usually not as strong or rich as barleywine. Often tilted towards a 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.
Light amber to very dark reddish-brown color (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-colored head; may be adversely affected by alcohol and age.
Medium to high malt character with a luscious malt complexity, often with nutty, caramelly and/or molasses-like flavors. Light chocolate or roasted malt flavors 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 flavors 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. Any acidity or tannin from age should be well-integrated and contribute to complexity in the flavor profile, not be a dominant experience.
Malty-sweet with fruity esters, often with a complex blend of dried-fruit, vinous, caramelly, molasses, nutty, toffee, light 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.
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. Light acidity may be present, as well as some tannin if wood-aged; both are optional.
Strength and character varies widely. The predominant defining quality for this style is the impression of age, which can manifest itself in different ways (complexity, lactic, Brett, oxidation, leather, vinous qualities, etc.). Even if these qualities are otherwise faults, if the resulting character of the beer is still pleasantly drinkable and complex, then those characteristics are acceptable. In no way should those allowable characteristics be interpreted as making an undrinkably off beer as somehow in style. Old Peculier is a fairly unique type of beer that is quite different than other Old Ales.
Historically, an aged ale 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). There are at least two definite types in Britain today, weaker draught ones that are similar aged milds of around 4.5%, and stronger ones that are often 6-8% or more.
Composition varies, although generally similar to British Strong Ales. The age character is the biggest driver of the final style profile, which is more handling than brewing. May be aged in wood, but should not have a strong wood character.
Roughly overlapping the British Strong Ale and the lower end of the English Barleywine styles, but always having an aged quality. The distinction between an Old Ale and a Barleywine is somewhat arbitrary above 7% ABV, and generally means having a more significant aged quality (particularly from wood). Barleywines tend to develop more of a ‘mature’ quality, while Old Ales can show more of the barrel qualities (lactic, Brett, vinous, etc.).