A Case For Brown Ales

BYOB by | Oct 2014 | Issue #93

Illustration by Ellen Crenshaw

When I started pursuing anything better than the god-awful stuff in my tallboy, every craft brewery had a similar core lineup: Blonde/Wheat for the timid, Pale Ale for the hoppy minded and a Porter/Stout for the truly brave. Most also had a Brown Ale, the lost child of the craft beer movement.

BeerAdvocate’s list of top American Brown Ales reinforces this point. The youngest brewery in the Top 10 is Surly, an eight-year-old endeavor. They appear twice, for Bender and Coffee Bender. Everyone else in the list—Dogfish, Sierra Nevada, Rogue, Smuttynose—is a true industry vet.

Brownish ales have a long history, but what we’re talking about is the classic Brown Ale born in Britain and transmogrified here. To me, Brown Ales have roasty, toasty brown bread tones that hang out over a medium malted beer with a restrained caramel sweetness. In my opinion, that means Maris Otter, Crystal 55 and Chocolate.

Once you’ve got your malt base, the sky’s the limit. A well-built brown is quite arguably the single most flexible flavor experimentation platform. Fruit? Why not! Funky? Belgians love sour browns. Coffee? Coffee Bender! More hops? Imperial Brown! The BJCP even has a Brown IPA now.

In today’s world where malt is treated as Public Enemy No. 1 and the primary organoleptic sensations chased by fans are bitterness and booze, is there room for Brown Ale’s more modest pleasures? Gambrinus, I hope so!

This is a more classic British Brown Ale. Bump the gravity to 1.062 and the IBUs into the 40s–50s for a more “Amurican” take.

For 5.5 Gallons at 1.052 OG, 28 IBU, 13 SRM, 5.1% ABV

Malt Bill
9.00 lb. Maris Otter (or Golden Promise)
1.0 lb. Simpsons Medium Crystal (55L)
0.25 lb. Simpsons Chocolate Malt

Rest for 60 minutes at 154°F.

0.5 oz Target (pellets) | 11% AA | 60 minutes
0.5 oz East Kent Golding (pellets) | 4.7% AA | 20 minutes

WLP005 British Ale