Other than the ABV value what are the exact differences between these two strong ale styles. I have tasted a lot of them and the difference seems very hard to notice. If you make a blind tasting, what descriptors would you use to identify each of them.
When considering barley wine there are two varieties recognized by the BJCP in the 2015 style guidlines.
- The American version which has an emphasis on hops, IMO not as similar to old ale.
- The English version which while hoppy is also sweeter and has more fruity flavors than the American version and IMO does seem similar to old ale.
If I were to compare an English barley wine to an old ale the differences among the higher end of the style seem minimal. However, I think that even on the higher end the old ale has an emphasis on the aged quality. In the smaller versions, less ABV, examples of English barely wine I think it is less malty than an old ale.
I also found the BJCP style guidelines style comparison useful for the English barley wine and old ale because they are so similar. I've included them below for reference.
"Old Ale Style Comparison: Roughly overlapping the British Strong Ale and the lower end of the English Barleywine styles, but always having an aged quality. The distinction between an Old Ale and a Barleywine is somewhat arbitrary above 7% ABV, and generally means having a more significant aged quality (particularly from wood). Barleywines tend to develop more of a ‘mature’ quality, while Old Ales can show more of the barrel qualities (lactic, Brett, vinous, etc.)." (From BJCP 2015 guidelines)
"English Barley Wine Style Comparison: Although often a hoppy beer, the English Barleywine places less emphasis on hop character than the American Barleywine and features English hops. English versions can be darker, maltier, fruitier, and feature richer specialty malt flavors than American Barleywines. Has some overlap British Old Ale on the lower end, but generally does not have the vinous qualities of age; rather, it tends to display the mature, elegant signs of age." (From BJCP 2015 guidelines)