What are the ale colours?

Taste the Ale Rainbow: Exploring Different Ale Colours

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Just as wine connoisseurs observe the colour of wine, ale enthusiasts appreciate the varying hues their favourite brews take on. Ale’s colour can tell you a lot about its style, flavour profile, and even brewing history. So, what are the ale colours? Ale colours range from the light, sunlit hues of a Pale Ale, the rich gold of Golden Ales, the robust reddish-amber tone of Amber Ales, and finally, the deep brown of Brown Ales. Each colour reflects the beer’s unique flavour profile from varied brewing techniques.

The Colourful Palette of Ales

Step into the vibrant world of ales, and you’ll find yourself dazzled by an artist’s palette of colours. From the bright, golden hues of a summer’s day to the deep, evocative browns reminiscent of autumn leaves, ales engage our sight and palate alike. 

The diverse colour range of ales is not merely an aesthetic delight. It reveals the brew’s character, taste, and strength. The paler golden ales often promise a lighter body, subtle sweetness, and a refreshing hoppy finish. True to their name, Amber ales offer rich, caramel-like undertones and a fuller body. Brown ales provide a multi-layered tasting experience with their dark, brooding tones – bold, rich and wonderfully complex. 

Golden Ale vs Pale Ale: A Spectrum within a Spectrum

Peeling back the ale universe’s layers reveals a kaleidoscope of colour, taste, and aroma intricacies. Within the seemingly straightforward categories of ‘light’ or ‘dark’, a labyrinth of subtle distinctions transforms each sip into a unique experience. No two ales illustrate this complexity better than the golden and pale ale. Although both reside on the lighter side of the ale spectrum, they offer surprisingly distinctive profiles.

What is the difference between golden ale and pale ale?
What is the difference between golden ale and pale ale?

Golden ales sport a bright, inviting hue that mimics the warmth of a perfect summer day. Their colour isn’t their only sunny attribute, though. Their refreshing, crisp taste offers easy drinkability and resembles a revitalising breeze on a hot afternoon. However, they aren’t all about lightness and effervescence. An unexpected layer of complexity unfolds as the balanced hop bitterness intermingles with a modest malt sweetness. The result? A drink that’s light but never simplistic, perfect for those seeking depth within a refreshing package.

Enter the pale ale. Although still lighter, pale ales are slightly darker than their golden counterparts. Their rich, deeper hue foreshadows the robust flavours they hold within. Characterised by a more pronounced hoppy bitterness, pale ales are a testament to the interplay between hops and malt. The taste palette combines caramel or toasted bread undertones and the bitterness of hops. Despite their robust character, pale ales strike a harmony that lends them their versatility.

The dance of golden and pale ales on our palates illustrates the fascinating subtleties that make the world of ales so engaging. 

Amber Ale vs Pale Ale: Diving Deeper into the Colour Spectrum

As we dive deeper into the intricate world of ale colours, we come across the warm, alluring tones of amber ale. A step further down the colours from the golden and pale ales, amber ale offers a captivating blend of flavour and complexity. Let’s see how this richer-hued ale measures up against its lighter cousin, the pale ale.

Amber ale ranges from light copper to deep reddish-brown. These beers are a testament to the marvel of malt. Indeed, the malted barley gifts amber ale its defining hue and imparts the brew’s characteristic flavour notes. On your palate, amber ales often paint a multi-layered canvas of caramel, toffee, and toasted bread — a warmly inviting complexity.

Contrastingly, pale ales, as we explored earlier, strike a balance between malt and hop flavours. The malt’s sweetness underpins the hop’s bitterness, creating a harmonious interplay of taste. Yet, in comparison, amber ales tip the scales towards the maltier side. The toasted, sweet malt notes dominate the profile, while the hoppy bitterness makes a more subtle appearance. 

This shift in balance doesn’t just influence the flavour but also makes amber ales slightly heavier and fuller-bodied compared to pale ales. It’s a fascinating shift that underscores the impact of a few degrees of difference on the colour spectrum.

Amber Ale vs Brown Ale: The Dark End of the Spectrum

As we venture further into the darker, richer end of the ale spectrum, we come face-to-face with the enigmatic world of brown ales. If amber ales represent the malty richness of ales, then brown ales epitomise a treasure trove of malt complexity. Let’s unveil the subtle differences and similarities between amber and brown ales. These two brews showcase the charming depth of malt characteristics.

Brown ales, named after their dark, chestnut hues, are typically associated with robust, malty profiles. Often overshadowed by its flashy ale siblings, the brown ale, in its modesty, exudes an understated yet compelling richness. The palette ranges from sweet caramel and toasted nuts to delicate cocoa and even hints of coffee, showcasing a malty symphony that is harmonious yet multifaceted.

What is the difference between brown ale and amber ale?
The Iconic Newcastle Brown Ale

On the other hand, amber ales, as we learned earlier, tread a fine line between sweetness and bitterness, their malt-forward profiles accented with notes of caramel and toasted bread. Although amber and brown ales share a malt-dominant character, brown ales usually take it a step further. The toasty and chocolatey nuances, the heavier body, and the deeper colour all speak to an intensity beyond what amber ales offer.

But don’t let this dissuade you from trying both styles. While they share a common focus on malt character, the taste adventure both amber and brown ales provide is unique, each telling its own malt-laden tale. Now, in our grand fin-ale, let’s revisit the finest ales in each colour category. Are you ready for a grand fin-ale? Stay tuned as we reveal the most exceptional ales, each a shining gem in the kaleidoscope of ale colours.

A Toast to the Top Ales in Each Category

With such a colourful spectrum of ales to explore, it takes time to pick favourites. But a few standouts have charmed ale lovers worldwide with exceptional taste profiles. Here are the three best ales in each category, each a testament to the artistry and craftsmanship in brewing.

Golden Ales:

  1. Summer Lightning by Hop Back Brewery: An award-winning English Golden Ale, Summer Lightning by Hop Back Brewery embodies the essence of a warm, English summer day.
  2. Exmoor Gold by Exmoor Ales: The first Golden Ale in the UK, this brew offers a delightful blend of sweet malts and floral hops perfect for any occasion.
  3. Citra by Oakham Ales: A refreshing, zesty Golden Ale famous for its strong grapefruit and lychee flavour notes due to the generous use of Citra hops.

Pale Ales:

  1. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale by Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.: Often considered the benchmark for American Pale Ales, it offers a delightful balance of malty sweetness and hoppy bitterness.
  2. Goose Island IPA by Goose Island Beer Co.: An English-style IPA with a fruity aroma, set off by a dry malt middle and long hop finish.
  3. Gamma Ray by Beavertown: This American-style Pale Ale is a hop lover’s dream with tropical, citrusy notes and a lingering bitter finish.

Amber Ales:

  1. Fat Tire by New Belgium Brewing: This Amber Ale combines toasty malt flavours with a hint of fresh hoppy aroma, resulting in a well-rounded and balanced brew.
  2. London Pride by Fuller’s: This classic English amber ale with a rich, smooth taste and well-developed malt flavours. The beer is characterised by its balanced hop bitterness and a subtly sweet, fruity aroma.
  3. Doom Bar by Sharp’s Brewery: This beer is among the UK’s most popular amber ales. It offers a delightful blend of succulent dried fruit, lightly roasted malt, and a subtle yet assertive bitterness.

Brown Ales:

  1. Newcastle Brown Ale by Heineken: The iconic “Newkie Brown” boasts a blend of caramel and nutty malts balanced with mild hoppy notes.
  2. Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale: This classic English Brown Ale offers a rich, nutty profile complemented by a hint of fruitiness.
  3. Moose Drool Brown Ale by Big Sky Brewing: This American Brown Ale combines sweet maltiness and subtle bitterness from hops, resulting in a rich and intricate flavour profile.


In the diverse world of ales, colour is a distinguishing factor, embodying the richness of its flavours and textures. From the sunny hues of Golden Ales and the delicate harmony in Pale Ales to the robust character of Amber and Brown Ales, we’ve tasted a range of ales. By understanding these differences, we can appreciate the intricate craft of brewing that gives each ale its unique personality. Next time you order an ale, remember it’s not just a beer. Each ale is a colourful testament to its unique history, the craftsmanship of its brewing, and the distinctive flavours it offers.

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