British ale styles captured the imagination of the craft brewing revolution in the US more than those of any other country. Much of this may owe to the close cultural ties between the US and Great Britain, though a large factor is undoubtedly that British ales lend themselves relatively easily to home brewing, the starting point for many now successful brewers.

Barley Wine. “Barley wine” is the evocative name coined by British brewers to describe an extremely potent ale that can range from golden copper to dark brown in color. They are characterized by extravagant caramel malt flavors and bittering hops that prevent the malt sweetness from cloying. Rich and viscous, they can have in their most complex manifestations winey flavor profiles, with a hint of sweetness. Some examples are vintage dated and can improve with extended bottle age. These powerful brews are classically sold in small “nip” bottles and can be consumed after dinner or with dessert. The style has become popular among US craft brewers who often produce them as winter specialties.

We Recommend:  Sierra Nevada Bigfoot

Bitter. Bitter is an English specialty, and very much an English term, generally denoting the standard ale–the “session” beer –in a English brewers range. They are characterized by a fruitiness, light to medium body and an accent on hop aromas more than hop bitters. Colors range from golden to copper. Despite the name they are not particularly bitter. Indeed, British brewed “bitters” will often be less bitter than US craft brewed amber ales. A fuller bodied bitter is labeled as “Extra Special Bitter” (ESB). These weightier versions of bitter often stand up better to the rigors of travel overseas than the lower gravity standard versions. An important element of faithful bitters are English yeast cultures used in fermentation. These impart a fruity, mildly estery character that should be noted in examples of the style. Bitters are now widely emulated in North America, sometimes with domestically grown hops imparting a rather more assertive character than seen in traditional English bitters.

We Recommend:  Fuller’s ESB

Brown Ale. The precise definition of English Brown Ale would depend on where you are in England. It is nowadays much more closely associated with Northern England, specifically Tadcaster and Newcastle, home to Newcastle Brown Ale. These medium-bodied reddish-brown beers are malt accented with a nutty character, a gentle fruitiness, and low bitterness. Alcohol is moderate, a maximum of 5%ABV. The much less prevalent Southern English style, not seen abroad, is much darker in color, sweeter on the palate, and made in a lighter style. English style brown ales of the former type have become very popular with US brewers, no doubt for the same reason as they took hold in England. Namely they offer great drinkability.

We Recommend:  Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown

Dry Stout. Dry stout is closely associated with Ireland in general, and Guinness in particular. These brews tend to be rich and dark with a definitive bitter note and a drying palate feel. They are classically paired with oysters, although any Irish Stout drinker will tell you that a pint it is a meal in itself. Draught (draft) Irish Stout is nitrogen-flushed to give it that tell-tale white creamy head that has made Guinness so recognizable. This process is also effected in cans and bottles with a nitrogen “widget.” The style is widely emulated throughout the world and is particularly popular with US microbrewers and brewpubs, often as a more full bodied and dryer interpretation.

We Recommend:  Guinness Foreign Extra Stout

Flavored Porter. Flavoring traditional beer styles is a particular feature of the ever creative US craft brewing scene. Flavorings used in porters are typically dark berry fruits and coffee, and when skillfully done the effect can be greater than the sum of its parts.

We Recommend:  Stone Smoked Porter

Flavored Stout. Flavored stouts are stouts, be they sweeter or drier, which have been flavored in some way. Dark fruits, coffee and chocolate are particularly popular, and the marriage of flavors should at best be greater than the sum of its parts.

We Recommend:  Young’s Double Chocolate Stout

Imperial Stout. Imperial Stout is an extra strong version of stout which was originally brewed by the British to withstand the rigors of export to Russia and the Baltic states. This style is dense, opaque black and strong in alcohol (6-7%), with a note of sweetness. Burnt cocoa and dried fruit flavors are typical. Russian Imperial Stouts originate from recipes that British brewers tailored to the tastes of the Imperial Russian court. Imperial stout was almost extinct until recreated by the British brewer Samuel Smiths in the early 1980s. The style has now been embraced by US craft brewers as a winter specialty.

We Recommend:  North Coast Old Rasputin

India Pale Ale (IPA). India Pale Ales are deep gold to amber in color, and are usually characterized by floral hop aromas and a distinctive hop bitterness on the finish. India Pale Ales were originally brewed by British brewers in the 19th Century, when British troops and colonizers depended upon supplies of beer shipped from England. Standard ales did not survive the journey, hence brewers developed high gravity, highly hopped ales that survived shipment in casks to their largest market, India. This style, probably not anywhere near as bitter as it was when destined for India, continues to be brewed in a toned down manner in the UK and is undergoing a mini-revival at present. However, US craft brewers have claimed the style as their own, and often brew them with assertive Pacific Northwestern hop varieties that give such examples a hugely aromatic hop accent.

We Recommend:  Bell’s Two Hearted Ale

Irish Red Ale. Irish ales are characterized by their reddish color, malt accents, slightly sweet palate, and low hopping. They are not generally bitter if true to style and in this they reflect the historical fact that the Irish have never taken to huge amounts of hops in their traditional beers. In their native land they have long played second fiddle to stout, and prior to that porter. Lacking a truly indigenous character, many versions being revived in the USA owe more to Celtic marketing than to a distinct character, although the color and high drinkability are the usual reference point.

We Recommend:  Sam Adams Irish Red

Oatmeal Stout. This brew is a variation of sweet stout which has a small proportion of oats used in place of roasted malt, which has the effect of enhancing body and mouthfeel. They were originally brewed by the British in the earlier part of this century, when stouts were thought of as a nutritious part of an everyday diet. After having fallen from favor, the style was revived by the Yorkshire brewer, Samuel Smith, in 1980. They tend to be highly flavorful with a velvety texture and sometimes a hint of sweetness. Oatmeal stouts are now a very popular staple of the US craft brewing scene.

We Recommend: Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout

Pale Ale. Pale ales tend to be fuller-bodied with a more assertive character on the palate the standard bitter in a English brewers portfolio. In England it is generally a bottled, as opposed to being sold on draft. Despite the name, pale ales are not pale but, in fact, more of an amber hue. The original designation was in reference to this style of beer being paler than the brown and black beers which were more popular at the time of the styles inception. In the US pale ale styles have become one of the benchmarks by which craft brewers are judged. The US version of pale ale is crisper and generally much more hoppy. Indeed this style is well suited to assertive domestic Pacific Northwestern hop varieties that give the US examples inimitable character.


Porter. Porters are red-brown to black in color, medium to medium-full bodied, and characterized by a flavor profile that can vary from very subtle dark malts to fully roasted, smoky flavors. Being a centuries old style, there are differences of opinion with regard to what a “true” porter was actually like and there can be wide variations from one brewer’s interpretation to the next. Roasted malt should provide the flavoring character, rather than roasted barley as is used with stouts. Stronger, darker versions and lighter more delicate versions are equally valid manifestations of the style. The influence of hops can often be notable in the richer craft brewed examples of the style. Although Porter was the drink of the masses of the 1700s London, it is not a significant factor in the British market today, despite the production of a few outstanding English examples. In the US it is enjoying new found popularity among US craft brewers and many fine US examples are produced.

We Recommend:  Harviestoun Old Engine Oil

Scottish Ale. Scottish ales are typically full-bodied and malty, with some of the classic examples being dark brown in color. They are more lowly hopped than the English counterparts and often have a slightly viscous and sweet caramel malt character due to incomplete fermentation. Scottish style ales can be found in far flung corners of the world where faithful versions are brewed, this being a legacy of its popularity in the British Empire. In the US many craft brewers produce a Scottish style ale.The “Export” versions produced by Scottish brewers, the type mostly encountered in the US, are considerably stronger and more malty than the standard versions made available to Scottish beer drinkers.

We Recommend:  Belhaven Scottish Ale

Strong Ale. Strong Ales are sometimes referred to as old ales, stock ales or winter warmers. These beers are higher alcohol versions (typically between 5.5-7%ABV) of pale ales, though not as robust or alcoholic as barley wines. Usually a deep amber color, these brews generally have a sweet malty palate and a degree of fruitiness. If “bottled conditioned,” strong ales can improve for some years in bottle, in some cases eventually obtaining Sherry-like notes.

We Recommend:  Stone Arrogant Bastard

Sweet Stout. Sweet stouts are largely a British specialty. These stouts have a distinctivesweetness to the palate and often show chocolate and caramel flavors, They are sometimes known as milk or cream stouts. These beers obtain their characters by using chocolate malts and lactic (milk) sugars in the brewing process.

We Recommend:  The Duck-Rabbit Milk Stout