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Ale is a fermented alcoholic beverage made from malt (derived primarily from barley), water and yeast. It did not keep well and needed to be consumed soon after being made. It might be served in inns, taverns or alehouses. Medieval ales had alcohol levels much lower than the modern equivalent.

Ale was frequently drunk by people of all ages due to the lack of safe drinking water in some areas and sometimes was considered part of one's payment for a job. The tunnelers for Exeter's tunnel system were had an ale allowance that was measured in pints per day.

At the beginning of the 15th century beer began to replace ale in England.