Hey even though we act like it, we admit we don’t know everything. And one thing that’s cool to know more about is the kind of beer that you’re drinking. Every beer style has its own backstory, a hometown, and a reason why it came about. It’s all part of a beer’s DNA and we think it matters.
So welcome to the latest in our ongoing series (drum roll please…) “What the Hell Is a Brown Ale?”
Okay, before you give us shit, let’s address the obvious…Even though the Brown Ale is named for its color, things aren’t quite that simple. To begin with, the hues of this commonly misunderstood style can actually range anywhere from dark copper or amber to deep brown or sometimes ruby. The term itself was first coined by London brewers and referred to a whole family of classic British varieties, such as their Mild ale (a whole other “What the Hell Is” column) in the early 18th century. There are really two types of Brown Ales nowadays – the more traditional British Brown and its Americanized cousin. British Browns can be dark, rich and nutty, and sport strong malt characteristics and most are brewed from 100% brown malt. American Browns share their British brethren’s caramel tones and rich malt backbone, but tend to be markedly hoppier. Most Brown Ales are traditionally lower octane affairs and are drinkable by design.
Brown Ales We Like and You Might Want to Try:
Cigar City Maduro Brown Ale (Tampa, FL) – This award-winning beer is basically a Northern English-style Brown Ale with some American touches thrown in. Like many American Browns, it’s higher in alcohol than its British counterparts and features a rich and complex malt profile.
Surly Bender (Brooklyn Center, MN) – This oatmeal American Brown expands upon the British tradition but still keeps things simple. Bender is crisp, velvety, lightly hoppy, and highly drinkable.
Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale (Milton, DE) – Like much of what Dogfish Head does, this beer is actually a lot of things. At its core, it’s an American Brown but there’s also some Scotch Ale and IPA going on. And at 7.2% ABV, it’s a much higher octane beer than most Brown Ales. Still, this is a beer is full of flavor and perfect for Thanksgiving celebrations
In today’s hop-crazed and IPA-friendly environment, Brown Ales are a much overlooked style. They’re just not considered to be sexy and are thought by many in the craft beer community (and we include many brewers in this) to be dull or boring. But like many very traditional styles with historical roots in Europe, Brown Ales are beginning to be rediscovered and redefined here in the states. And we’re excited about what some American brewers are doing with a style that simply doesn’t deserve to be overlooked or left for dead. Clearly we prefer the American Brown Ales to the British Browns and we think our more playful and hopped-up variations might even cross back over “the pond” and potentially rejuvenate their original style in much the same way that our West Coast IPAs have.
For more in our ongoing “What the Hell Is?” series, check out: