For other uses, see Ale (disambiguation).

Ale is an ancient word for a fermented alcoholic beverage obtained chiefly from malted barley. The closest thing to traditional ale available currently is Real ale, but in Britain, "ale" is nowadays practically synonymous with "beer". At one time, the word "ale" was used for beer brewed without hops in opposition to the "biere", the beer with hops, but this has not been the case for at least 400 years.

Ales are brewed with top-fermenting yeasts at temperatures from 15 to 25 deg C for shorter periods and warmer temperature than lager. Generally they are more robust and complex than lagers. Ales are also usually served at higher temperatures than lagers.

Before the introduction of hops into England from the Netherlands in the 15th century the name "ale" was exclusively applied to unhopped fermented beverages, the term "beer" being gradually introduced to describe a brew with an infusion of hops. This distinction does not apply at the present time. In a number of U.S. states, especially in the western United States, "ale" is the term mandated by state law for any beverage fermented from grain with an alcoholic strength above that which can legally be named "beer," without regard to the method of fermentation or the yeast used. This distinction is not obsolete, but it is idiosyncratic.

In former times the Welsh and Scots had two distinct kinds of ale, called common and spiced ales, the relative values of which (compared to mead) were appraised by law in the following terms:

If a farmer have no mead, he shall pay two casks of spiced ale, or four casks of common ale, for one cask of mead.

Lager is the dominant style in almost all countries; however, ales are very common in Britain, Germany, the United States, and Belgium.

Varieties of ale

United Kingdom / American ales

United Kingdom ales are, worldwide, the most popular variety of beer fermented with top-fermented yeast. Most beers in this region typically are made with yeast strains that leave some esters behind, adding great amounts of complexity. "Earthy" English hops are added, adding to the complexity. Within this region, a wide variety of substyles can be found -- ranging from roasted malt ales (porter, stout), to highly hopped ales (India pale ale), to malt-balanced ales (Scottish ale). Alcohol ranges from the very low (e.g. the English mild beer) to the very high (e.g. the English barleywine).

American style ales rose out of the microbrewery / craft brewing revolution that began in the early 1980s. Typically, these ales are very similar to their British counterparts, but have cleaner yeast strains, and often have higher hop rates dominated by American varieties (such as the citrusy Cascade hop.)

Belgium ales

Belgium produces a wide variety of specialty ales that elude easy classification. In addition to making a variety of blonde ale, common classifications for these specialty beers may be dubbel (malty-complex with a red hue) and tripel (a high-alcohol, lightly-gold colored beer).

Some specialty beers are based off of old monestary brewing recipies; these beers are often referred to as abbey ales. Six monasteries in Belgium still brew beer; such beers are designated with the trappist term.

German / hybrid ales

These are old-style ales fermented in Germany. A long, cold conditioning period yields a cleaner style, free of the esters that one finds in UK ales.

Wheat beer

Wheat beer is found mostly in Germany, but examples can also be found in America and Belgium. German wheat beers are typically fermented with a yeast that yields banana and clove esters. In contrast to most styles, these beers are typically served unfiltered (with the suspended yeast clouding the beverage). For American microbreweries, the wheat beer is usually fermented with a clean yeast and filtered. Often this beer is combined with fruit flavors (e.g. raspberry wheat beers) to create a light, refreshing drink.

Specialty ales

  • Lambic -- a sour ale fermented by wild yeast, sometimes flavored with fruit.
  • Berliner_Weisse -- a low-strength sour wheat ale originating in Berlin.
  • Flanders ale (Saison, Oud Bruin, Biere de Garde) -- a unique farmhouse style sour ale produced primarily in the Flanders region of Belgium and France.
  • Rauchbier -- a style of ale made with smoked malt.

Popular examples of ale

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