Best Strong Ales: Bold, Complex, and Flavorful

Hey beer aficionados! Ever tried a strong ale? These robust brews are known for their high alcohol content, rich flavors, and complex profiles.

Imagine a beer that’s not just a drink but an experience, with layers of malt, hops, and sometimes even fruit and spice. Strong ales are perfect for savoring slowly and appreciating all the nuances they have to offer.

Let’s dive into the world of strong ales and discover what makes them so special.

1. Arrogant Bastard Ale

Arrogant Bastard Ale by Stone Brewing is a well-known American strong ale. It’s bold, hoppy, and full of rich malt flavors. Think of it as the rebellious rock star of beers—unapologetically intense and unforgettable.

2. Old Peculier

Theakston’s Old Peculier is a classic English strong ale with deep, complex flavors of dark fruit, caramel, and a hint of chocolate. Imagine sitting in a cozy English pub, savoring a pint by the fireplace—comforting and rich.

3. Lagunitas Brown Shugga’

Lagunitas Brown Shugga’ is a strong ale with a twist of sweetness from the added brown sugar. It’s like dessert in a glass, with notes of caramel, toffee, and a smooth, warming finish.

4. Great Divide Hibernation Ale

Hibernation Ale from Great Divide Brewing Co. is a winter seasonal strong ale with flavors of roasted malt, dried fruit, and a touch of spice. Think of it as a warm blanket on a cold night—rich, comforting, and perfect for sipping.

5. Founders Dirty Bastard

Founders Dirty Bastard is a Scotch-style strong ale with bold, smoky flavors, hints of caramel, and a touch of peat. It’s like a journey through the Scottish Highlands—rugged, bold, and full of character.

History and Background

Origins of Strong Ales

Strong ales have a long history, dating back to medieval Europe when higher alcohol content was needed to preserve beer for long voyages and storage. These brews were often reserved for special occasions and celebrations.

Over time, the style evolved, with brewers experimenting with different ingredients and techniques to create more complex and flavorful beers.

Evolution Over Time

Strong ales have continued to evolve, with modern brewers pushing the boundaries of flavor and alcohol content. The craft beer revolution has seen a resurgence in the popularity of strong ales, with brewers around the world creating innovative and bold versions.

Despite these changes, the essence of strong ales—high alcohol content and rich, complex flavors—remains the same.

Key Regions and Their Influence

Strong ales are brewed worldwide, with notable variations in the United States and the United Kingdom.

American strong ales often emphasize hop character and bold flavors, while British strong ales focus more on malt complexity and balanced profiles. Each region’s unique brewing traditions and ingredients contribute to the diversity and richness of the strong ale category.

Characteristics of Strong Ales


Strong ales typically have a deep amber to dark brown color with a thick, creamy head. They look as robust and inviting as they taste. Imagine a rich, golden sunset captured in a glass—warm, vibrant, and full of promise.


The aroma of strong ales is a complex blend of malt sweetness, dark fruits, caramel, and sometimes a hint of spice or smoke. It’s like stepping into a bakery filled with the scents of freshly baked bread, caramelized sugar, and spiced cakes.

Flavor Profile

Strong ales offer a rich, multi-layered flavor profile. Expect notes of caramel, toffee, dark fruit, and roasted malt, often balanced by a subtle hop bitterness. Each sip is an exploration, revealing new flavors and nuances.

It’s like savoring a gourmet dessert—indulgent, satisfying, and complex.


Strong ales have a full body with a smooth, velvety mouthfeel. The carbonation is typically moderate, providing a satisfying yet gentle finish. It’s like enjoying a luxurious, creamy dessert—rich, smooth, and utterly enjoyable.

Types of Strong Ales

English Strong Ale

English strong ales are known for their rich malt character and balanced profiles. They often feature flavors of caramel, toffee, and dark fruit, with a smooth, slightly sweet finish.

Think of them as the classic, well-mannered elder statesmen of the strong ale world.

American Strong Ale

American strong ales are bolder, with a greater emphasis on hop character and higher alcohol content.

They often feature intense flavors of citrus, pine, and resin, balanced by a strong malt backbone. Imagine them as the adventurous, outspoken cousins—full of energy and excitement.

Other Regional Variations

Brewers around the world have embraced the strong ale style, adding their unique twists. From Belgian-inspired strong ales to those brewed with local ingredients, the possibilities are endless.

Each variation offers a new perspective on the classic strong ale, providing a diverse range of flavors and experiences to explore.

Pairing Strong Ales with Food

Best Food Pairings

Strong ales are versatile and pair wonderfully with a variety of robust dishes. Here are some ideas:

  • English Strong Ale: Perfect with roasted meats, stews, and savory pies. The rich malt flavors complement the hearty, savory elements of these dishes.
  • American Strong Ale: Great with grilled steaks, barbecued ribs, and spicy sausages. The bold hop presence and high alcohol content cut through the richness and enhance the flavors.
  • Other Regional Variations: Pair with strong cheeses, dark chocolate, and rich desserts. The complex flavors of strong ales can elevate the sweetness and creaminess of these foods.

Why These Pairings Work

The rich, complex flavors of strong ales make them ideal for pairing with equally robust foods. The malt sweetness enhances the caramelization in roasted and grilled dishes, while the hop bitterness cuts through the richness, balancing the palate.

It’s like finding the perfect duet—each note complements the other, creating a harmonious blend.

Homebrewing Strong Ales

Basic Recipes

Want to try brewing your own strong ale? Here’s a simple recipe to get you started:


  • Pale malt
  • Crystal malt
  • Dark malt (for color and depth)
  • Hops (like Fuggle, Goldings, or Cascade)
  • Ale yeast
  • Water


  1. Mash the grains at 150°F (65°C) for 60 minutes.
  2. Boil the wort, adding hops at the start and near the end for bitterness and aroma.
  3. Cool the wort and pitch the ale yeast.
  4. Ferment at 68°F (20°C) for about two weeks.
  5. Bottle or keg, carbonate, and enjoy your homemade strong ale!

Tips and Tricks

For the best results, use fresh ingredients and high-quality malts. Experiment with different hop varieties and malt combinations to create your unique flavor profile. Pay attention to fermentation temperatures to avoid off-flavors and ensure a clean, smooth finish.

Common Challenges

One common challenge is achieving the right balance of malt sweetness and hop bitterness. Start with a balanced recipe and adjust future batches based on your taste preferences.

Another challenge is managing the higher alcohol content, which can be achieved by ensuring proper yeast health and fermentation conditions.

Trends in Strong Ales

Current Trends

Strong ales are enjoying a resurgence in popularity, with brewers experimenting with new ingredients and techniques.

Barrel-aged strong ales, which add depth and complexity through aging in whiskey or wine barrels, are particularly trendy.

There’s also a growing interest in hybrid styles that blend strong ales with other beer styles, creating innovative and unique flavors.

Future Predictions

Looking ahead, we can expect more creativity and experimentation in the strong ale category. Brewers will likely continue to explore exotic ingredients, such as spices, fruits, and herbs, to create unique flavor profiles. Sustainability and local sourcing will also play a bigger role, with brewers using locally sourced ingredients to craft regionally inspired strong ales.


To wrap things up, strong ales are a fantastic choice for those who love bold, complex, and flavorful beers.

Whether you’re enjoying a commercial example or brewing your own, these beers offer a world of richness and enjoyment. Their versatility in food pairings and their rich history make them a beloved style among beer enthusiasts.

So next time you’re in the mood for something special, reach for a strong ale and savor the experience. Cheers!

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