We’ve talked before about how certain beer descriptors have more than one equally correct meaning depending on context. Most recently, the issue arose again in a conversation about old ale and barley wine.
Those two styles, says Martyn Cornell, are not all that easily distinguished. One contributor thought he’d cracked it, however, when he pointed out that Adnams Old Ale (dark, 4.1%) bears no resemblance whatsoever to, say, Fuller’s Golden Pride (dark amber, 8.5%).
The problem is that Adnams Old Ale is the exact opposite: a mild.
Brewers can call their beers whatever they like. What’s written on the label or pumpclip of a beer today is rarely any help in understanding a beer bearing the same descriptor a hundred years ago. In fact, they can be downright confusing.
|Historical (19th c.)||Common understanding (what it’s come to mean)||US homebrew judging guidance|
|Old Ale||The aged version of a beer also sold fresh (mild).||Possibly strong, but not necessarily (see above): something a bit special; “warming”.||Sherry/port flavours, usually dark, 6-9% abv.|