Old Ale



OG = 1.060 to 90+ FG = 1.015 to 22+
IBUs = 30 to 60  SRM = 12 to 16 

Old ales are often regarded as winter warmers and are brewed as seasonal offerings for the cold weather. Traditionally they were brewed in the spring to be laid down during the summer months. The name of this style can be taken two ways: “Old” meaning the beer is aged for an extended period, or “old” meaning that it is a style that has been brewed for a long time. Some beers brewed in this style do not have the designation “old” in their name, for example, the lovely Young’s Winter Warmer and the complex Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby.

Sometimes there is a gray area between old ales and barleywines, with commercial versions blending into each other — most notably, Eldridge Pope’s Thomas Hardy’s Ale. Generally old ales, even with significant alcohol strength, are not as potent or rich as barleywines and, for the most part, are darker in color. When laid down for six months (and in some cases, five years) they change, mature and become more potent.

Homebrewers can brew many different versions of old ale. The grain bill can range from 75 percent pale malt to 100 percent pale malt. A variety of brewing sugars can be added to the kettle, as well as small amounts of roasted grains and varying amounts of crystal malt. Brew our old ale and then use it as a base to experiment with this delicious, complex, warming style of beer.

Our old ale has a thick, light-tan head that gradually sinks into a tawny brown beer, leaving foam in its wake. The beer is sweet and malty on the palate with a subtle nuance of a secret ingredient, treacle, adding complexity and depth. The finish is surprisingly dry with a suggestion of alcohol.

Commercial Beers To Try   

Commercial examples are hard to come by in the United States, but a good one to try is Full Sail Wassail Winter Ale. The UK brings us some delicious examples: Old Peculier by Theakston’s brewery in North Yorkshire, Marston’s Owd Rodger, Gale’s Prize Old Ale, Young’s Winter Warmer, Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby and, our favorite, Robinson’s Old Tom. Tooheys Old Black Ale from Australia, Granite Brewery Peculiar from Canada, Broughton’s Old Jock from Scotland, Renwick Hurricane and Shakespeare King Lear from New Zealand are all worth a try.

The aroma is malty, with complex fruity esters. A small amount of oxidation is acceptable because of the long aging period. The color can range from medium amber to extremely dark amber.

Hops, Malt, Adjuncts and Yeast   

Hops are typically English in origin, but, because of the extended aging time and emphasis on malt, the variety is not as important. East Kent Goldings, English Fuggles, Challenger, Northdown, Styrian Goldings or Progress are all suitable. Kettle hops should be added for bittering, flavor and aroma. Dry hopping gives balance. The base malt should be well-modified British two-row pale. Generous additions of caramel malts should be used (55° to 80° Lovibond). In darker versions, small amounts of dark malts are used sparingly.

Torrified wheat and flaked barley can be used for head retention and to impart a smoothness and full body. Old ales can contain up to 15 percent brewing sugars, such as invert sugar, cane sugar, black treacle, Lyle’s Golden syrup and brown sugar. Our yeast choices are all strains from the UK: London Ale (Wyeast 1028), Irish Ale (Wyeast 1084), London III (Wyeast 1318), or Ringwood (Wyeast 1187).

Serving Suggestions   

Serve at 55° F in a footed goblet with pan-seared pork chops, caramelized Granny Smith apples and Vidalia onions in an old ale beer pan gravy, accompanied by steamed fingerling potatoes tossed with fresh garlic, herbs and oil.


Old Ale

5 gallons, extract with grains; OG = 1.077 to 1.080 FG = 1.018 to 1.020; SRM = 35 IBUs = 36


  • 14 oz. British crystal malt (55° Lovibond)
  • 6 oz. torrified wheat
  • 2.5 oz. British chocolate malt
  • 8.75 lbs. Muntons extra-light DME
  • 6 oz. black treacle
  • 7.8 AAUs East Kent Goldings (1.5 oz. of 5.2% alpha acid) (bittering)
  • 5.2 AAUs East Kent Goldings (1 oz. of 5.2% alpha acid) (flavor)
  • 1 AAUs Fuggles (0.25 oz. of 4% alpha acid) (flavor)
  • 1 tsp. Irish moss
  • 5.2 AAUs East Kent Goldings (1 oz. of 5.2% alpha acid) (aroma)
  • 2.6 AAUs East Kent Goldings (0.50 oz. of 5.2% alpha acid) (dry hop) London Ale (Wyeast 1028) or English Ale (White Labs WLP002)
  • 1-1/4 cup Muntons extra-light DME for priming

Step by Step   

Bring 1 gal. of water to 155° F, add crushed grain and hold for 30 min. at 150° F. Strain the grain into the brewpot and sparge with 1 gal. of 168° F water. Add the dry malt, black treacle and bittering hops. Bring the total volume in the brewpot to 3.5 gal.

Boil for 45 min., then add the flavor hops and Irish moss. Boil for 14 min., then add the aroma hops. Boil for 1 min. Cool wort for 15 min. Strain into the primary fermenter and add water to obtain 5-1/8 gal.

Add yeast when wort has cooled to below 80° F. Oxygenate/aerate well. Ferment at 68° F for 7 days, then rack into secondary (glass carboy) and add dry hops. Ferment until target gravity has been reached and beer has cleared (5 weeks). Prime and bottle. Carbonate at 70° to 72° F for 3 to 4 weeks. Store at cellar temperature.

Partial-Mash Option:

Acidify the mash water to below 7.2 pH. Mash 1.75 lbs. British two-row pale malt and the specialty grains in 1 gal. water at 150° F for 90 min. Sparge with 1.5 gal. of water at 5.7 pH and 168° F. Follow the extract recipe, omitting 2 lbs. of Muntons extra- light DME from the boil.

All-Grain Option:

Acidify the mash water to below 7.2 pH. Mash 12.75 lbs. British two-row pale malt and the specialty grains in 4.25 gal. of water at 150° F for 90 min. Sparge with 5 gal. of water at 5.7 pH and 168° F. The total boil time is 90 min. Add 6 AAUs of bittering hops for the last 90 min. of the boil. Add flavor hops, Irish moss, aroma hops and dry hops as indicated.

Helpful Hints:

If your water is soft (below 50 ppm hardness), add 1/4 tsp. gypsum, 1/4 tsp. non-iodized table salt and 1 tsp. chalk to adjust. If your water is hard (greater than 200 ppm hardness), dilute it 50/50 with distilled water. Old ale is ready to drink 3 months after carbonation. It will peak between 6 and 10 months and will last for up to 1 year at cellar temperatures.

Issue: April 2001