Strong Ale Definition
Strong Ales (also called Barleywines) is a catch-all category for grain-based alcoholic beverages with roughly 8-12% ABV content. The diverse sub-categories can include American Strong Ales, English Strong Ales, Belgian Dark Strong Ales, etc. Each has a slightly different broader taste profile. American versions tend to be hoppier. The English is usually maltier and fuller bodied. While the Belgian can be more yeasty and/or fruity.
Market Trends in Beer
“…Overall U.S. beer market has taken a hit from difficult economic conditions and competition from other drinks categories—losing nearly 6.7 million barrels (or 93 million 2.25-gallon cases) since 2009—specialty beers are providing a growth avenue for the category. Total U.S. beer volume… fell 1.5% to 195 million barrels last year (2013), but specialty beers rose by 14% to 20.2 million barrels, according to the U.S. Beer Market: Impact Databank Review and Forecast.” From Shanken News Daily.
The U.S. palate is exploring, looking for diversity (finally) and making lagers and pilsners shrinking U.S. beer categories. Beautiful! The world of beer is so diverse and interesting with an amazing array of flavors and textures…
Commercial Examples of Strong Ales
American Style: Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, Rogue Old Crustacean, Avery Hog Heaven Barleywine, Anchor Old Foghorn, Stone Old Guardian, Bridgeport Old Knucklehead, Lagunitas Olde GnarleyWine, Smuttynose Barleywine, Flying Dog Horn Dog
English Style: Thomas Hardy’s Ale, Burton Bridge Thomas Sykes Old Ale, Fuller’s Golden Pride, AleSmith Old Numbskull, Whitbread Gold Label, Old Dominion Millenium
Belgian Dark Strong Ale Style: St. Bernardus Abt 12, Achel Extra Brune, Southampton Abbot 12, Chimay Grande Reserve (Blue), Gulden Draak, Lost Abbey Judgment Day, Russian River Salvation
Why are Strong Ales Worth Exploring?
This category is a wide open style. Permitting barrel aging, dry-hopping, fruit infusion, wheat/barley/malt experimentation and a wide array of textures abound. I have tasted the brisk, piney, hops tasting Stone to the heavier textured malty Lagunitas. Those infused with apricot, or aged in old pinot noir, or bourbon barrels have been wonderfully fun to explore. All have been interesting expressions of beer styles that just makes you want to try more…
Strong Ales: A Blank Canvas for the Brewmaster
The winemaker is lauded for his technique in expressing the terroir and nuanced flavors of the fruit. The brewmaster can be the same artist, exploring textures and flavors from fruit, grains, barrel aging, etc. I grew up in the U.S drinking lagers and pilsners, with no idea there were so many styles of beer in the universe. I am so happy the U.S. consumer has discovered and embraced the numerous options and encouraged breweries to explore and produce every kind of beer imaginable. On my way to The Yard House… I wonder which of their 100+ beers on tap I will be drinking today?