Word Origin & History
O.E. ealu "ale, beer," from P.Gmc. *aluth- (cf. O.S. alo, O.N. öl), perhaps from PIE root meaning "bitter" (cf. L. alumen "alum"), or from PIE *alu-t "ale," from base *alu-, which has connotations of "sorcery, magic, possession, intoxication." The word was borrowed from Gmc. into Lith. (alus) and
O.C.S. (olu). Ale and beer were synonymous until growing of hops began in England early 15c.
"[A]t present 'beer' is in the trade the generic name for all malt liquors, 'ale' being specifically applied to the paler coloured kinds, the malt for which has not been roasted or burnt; but the popular application of the two words varies in different localities." [OED]
Meaning "festival or merry-meeting at which much ale was drunk" was in O.E. (see bridal
). An alehouse (O.E. eala-huse) "is distinguished from a tavern, where they sell wine" [Johnson].