The best Abbey ales come from the Trappist monasteries. These are great, buxom, wine-like, frequently high alcohol, brick red to mahogany colored ales. Trappist ales especially are very fruity due to the presence of esters which are the result of special strains of yeast and brewing methods. Each Trappist ale shows some sediment and is perfect for cellar aging for up to 5 years. Currently in Europe, there are only a half dozen Trappist breweries, five inhabit Belgium, one in Holland.

Altbier, Alt

Born in German breweries, primarily in and around the city of Dusseldorf, this often pretty style of beer is the color of orange pekoe tea-like copper to a rich brown hue. The term alt means "old" in German and relates directly to the brewing process, which is more akin to the making of ale than lager since the fermentation is on the warm side of the scale. Though the fermentation is warm, the Germans age alts in cold storage, like lagers, thus the A/L categorization. Alts are aromatic due to the high hop content. 


An intensely fruity and hoppy style of domestic ale or lager thatís the color of unadulterated tea. Though not a ponderous style, ambers can be very pleasant quaffing. 
Barley Wine (A): Considered a subcategory of Strong Ale, barley wine is high in alcohol content (8-10%) and traditionally dark in appearance, usually a harvest gold to medium chocolate brown. The aroma is sweet and malty while the flavor is normally quite bitter. Acquired taste.


The UK reference to the copper-to-bronze-to-ruby toned ales which are part-and-parcel of the British pub landscape. Doubtless the most common draft beer type in the land of fish and chips. Goes from being mildly bitter and astringent to the mouth-puckering level, which is labeled as ESB (Extra Special Bitter). Alcohol level is normally 4-5% by volume. 

Brown Ale

An invention of the brewers in the north of England who flourished in the UKís coal mining regions, Brown Ales are stocky, firm, and on the sweet side and exhibit a high concentration of maltiness. Their low alcohol readings (4-5%) make them excellent chug-a-lug beers in chilly weather. Color ranges from copper penny to coffee brown.


See "Bitter".

India Pale Ale/a.k.a. IPA
An under appreciated ale style in the U.S. which can at its best offer sublime, moderately bitter aromas and flavors of flowery hops and ripe red fruit. Appearance ranges from honey gold to rust. The name evolved in the 19th century when British brewers were transporting ale to troops stationed in India and other far-flung British Empire-controlled ports-of-call. The tedious voyage around Africaís Cape demanded that a beer be robust and immune to drastic changes of climate. This wonderful variety more often than not survived the journey.

Pale Ale

Bitter, which is marginally lighter than Pale Ale, can be included in this subcategory. Some of the worldís finest ales inhabit this well-populated subcategory, which evolved in the great brewing center of Burton-upon-Trent, England in the 17th and 18th centuries. The beers themselves are rarely pale, but in reality, more of an amber-bronze-rust hue. Thereís always the presence of bitterness in the underpinning flavor, then a dry to off-dry maltiness comes over the top. 


Appearance-wise, Porter runs a narrow corridor of color from deep amber to dark copper to black coffee, all with hints of red. Characterized to the point of distraction as the cruiserweight to Stoutís heavyweight, Porter is one of the more flavorful and deeply satisfying styles of ale, whose aromas and flavors can evoke bittersweet chocolate, coffee beans, roasted nuts, baked apples or pears, malt, and even spice. Portersí depth of flavor and appearance come from the use of black patent malts and roasted, unmalted barley. Definitely a cool month or winter variety of ale, which should never be served too cold. Thought to have been introduced to Britain in the early 18th century. The name developed from the fact that train porters in England used to sell Porter to passengers. People would shout out, "Porter!".

Scotch Ale/Scottish Ale, a.k.a. Wee Heavy

If beer has a rough equivalent to single malt Scotch Whisky, this is it. The best are heavily malted, full-bodied, show a deep amber-auburn hue, and offer a husky texture that fills the mouth like few other beer styles. The deep, grainy, mashy flavor and dark tone are the products of the roasted barley malt. Only a few can be located in the U.S.
Stout (A): A broad subcategory of the meatiest, most complex, and darkest of top-fermented ales that includes Oatmeal, Cream, Dry, Sweet, and Imperial. More potent than Porter, Stouts are like a meal in themselves and in the past have been viewed as such. Stout is a beer category that one works up to rather than employs as a launching point. Stouts range in taste from dry, velvety, and roasted to sweet, thick, creamy, and chocolatey. 

Strong Ale, a.k.a. Old English Ale

A very potent, endowed, texturally bulky ale that runs in color from pale amber to tawny and in bouquet and flavor from almond-like to fruity to creamy sweet. Usually quite bitter to the taste and low in hops influence. 

All text from the Spirit Journal Beer Style Guide. (c) 2011 F. Paul Pacult. All rights reserved.