Ale is a type of beer brewed from malted barley using a warm fermentation with a strain of brewers' yeast. The yeast will ferment the beer quickly, giving it a sweet, full bodied and fruity taste. Most ales contain hops, which help preserve the beer and impart a bitter herbal flavour that balances the sweetness of the malt.
Ale is typically fermented at temperatures between 15 and 24 °C. At temperatures above 24 °C the yeast can produce significant amounts of esters and other secondary flavour and aroma products, and the result is often a beer with slightly "fruity" compounds resembling but not limited to apple, pear, pineapple, banana, plum, cherry, or prune.
The term "ale" was initially used to describe a drink brewed without hops, unlike "beer",although it eventually came to mean a bitter-tasting barley beverage fermented at room temperature.
Ale typically has bittering agent(s) to balance the sweetness of the malt and to act as a preservative.
Ale was originally bittered with gruit (gruut), a mixture of herbs (sometimes spices) which was boiled in the wort prior to fermentation. Later, hops replaced the gruit blend in common usage as the sole bittering agent.
Ale, along with bread, was an important source of nutrition in the medieval world, particularly Small beer, also known as table beer or mild beer, which was highly nutritious, contained just enough alcohol to act as a preservative, and provided hydration without intoxicating effects. Small beer would have been consumed daily by almost everyone in the medieval world, with higher-alcohol ales served for recreational purposes.
The lower cost for proprietors combined with the lower taxes levied on small beer led to the selling of beer labeled "strong beer" that had actually been diluted with small beer. The word 'ale' is native English, in Old English alu or ealu, but aloth, ealoth in the genitive and dative. This is a cognate of Old Saxon alo, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Old Norse öl/øl, Old Bulgarian olu cider, Slovenian ol, Old Prussian alu, Lithuanian alus, Latvian alus (whence, Finnish olut).