Thursday, August 07, 2014

Early brown ale beers were prized for their smokiness and dark color.

Written by  Ben Darcie
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As with most standard American styles, Brown Ale was born in Europe. The earliest English Ales were brown in color, using “brown” malt – base malt that had been kilned over a hardwood fire. These early beers were prized for their smokiness and dark color, and the first reference to brown ales was in 1750, by way of Partigyle Brewing.
Partigyle brewing was an early form of maximizing the output of a single mash. Rather than taking the first runnings (the sweetest) and filling out volume with the weaker second runnings, Partigyle Brewing allowed early brewers to create three different beers from the same mash.

The first runnings would be referred to as “stout beer”, the second as “stich or strong brown ale”, and the weakest third runnings would be fermented out to become “common brown ale”.

Brown ales and Mild ales were both very popular at this time, and were often mistaken for each other. Both contributed to the development of Porter, which would take Europe by storm. To make the style's history even more confusing, in the 1800s, “brown beer” was used as an umbrella term for all dark beer to signify seperation from the beers made with pale malt. Today, Porter is a far more popular style, but Browns are holding strong. Milds are difficult to find and is a declining style, yet extremely enjoyable and quite different from what we're used to.

There are three styles of Brown ale, London (or Southern) brown, Northern (or Newcastle) brown and American (or Texas) brown ale. London browns tend to be sweeter, Northern exhibit some bitterness, and American browns tend to be bigger and aggressively hopped.

I enjoy Brown ales for their relaxed complexity, and I find they pair excellently with a bonfire. They are relaxed and drinkable, but dynamic, often dipping into subtle notes of biscuit, roast and chocolate.

Some American browns are quite robust, especially roasty or chocolatey; it's all a matter of what kind of brown you enjoy.

These are just a few Michigan Brown options. Brown Ale is a US Standard and you'll find many Browns at local breweries.

  • Arcadia Nut Brown
  • Bell's Best Brown
  • Darkhorse Boffo Brown
  • Jolly Pumpkin Maracaibo Especial (Belgian) Brownjolly-pumpkin-maracaibo-especial
  • Keewenaw Lift Bridge Brown
  • New Holland Cabin Fever
  • Red Jacket Brewing Brown
  • Rochester Mills Maple Brown
  • Short's Bellaire Brown
  • Short's Good Humans
  • Short's Woodmaster

And here are commercial examples of the three kinds of brown ales:

Northern Brown: Newcastle Brown, Samuel Smith's Nut Brown, Avery Ellie's Brown, Goose Island Brown

Southern Brown: Mann's Brown, Harvey's Nut Brown, Woodeforde's Norfolk Nog 

American Brown: Brooklyn Brown, Smuttynose Old Brown Dog, North Coast Acme Brown

Ben Darcie

Ben Darcie

Ben Darcie has been homebrewing since 2006 and is currently the Brewery Representative for Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids, MI. He also provides public and private Beer Education and is a Beer Writer for BeerAdvocate, I'm a Beer Hound and three other Michigan publications. He is also the founder of Experience Beer WM and the 9wk Grand Rapids Beer Tasting Class (est. 2010).