It’s traditionally an English style that is a sub-style of Strong Ale; in addition to drinking straight, Old Ale was also used for blending. This beer shouldn’t be too hoppy or roasty; instead, it should be sweet, full-bodied, and a little warming/alcoholic.Winter Warmers fit into this category, though are typically a bit maltier than a traditional Old Ale.
There should also be quite a bit of dried-fruit and caramel aroma and flavor. Molasses is usually in there as well, but not always. Most often, I get an impression of raisin or prune puree (yes, that’s a good thing!) and caramel. Old Ale is typically aged, meaning it may contain flavors attributed to oxidation such as sherry or port – but well within style guidelines. Hoppiness will vary by the beer; Great Divide & Founder’s are hoppier than Bell’s or Samuel Smith’s. If you’re not a hop lover, or if you enjoy strong malty beers, Old Ale is a great fit.
Another reason to love Old Ale? Availability! No getting in line at 4:30am or running around town to locate a bottle. Any good liquor store in town will carry them, as will most of the beer bars in KC. Some examples available to us, in order of my preference (most to least preferred), include: Bell’s Third Coast Old Ale, Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome, Founder’s Curmudgeon, Avery Old Jubilation, Great Divide Hibernation Ale, and JW Lee’s Moonraker. I know I’ve had Fuller’s 1845 and Theakston Old Peculiar, but it’s been so long that I’ve forgotten where they might fit in that list. I'd been told that Old Peculiar was no longer being distributed in Missouri. I'm not sure that's true, but it's worth trying it before it disappears (what was I just saying about availability?).