Dark Amber to Black / 18 – 35 SRM
Moderate / 20 – 30 IBU
Sweetness Low to medium
Balance Slightly Toward Hoppy
The big hop flavors that began pouring from taps in the 1980s changed American brewing and brewers forever (see our post on American IPA for more). Our collective palates became obsessed with humulus lupulus, and that obsession continues to impact how beer is created across the country. As we discussed in our post on Black IPA, the hop craze wasn’t isolated to pale beers–it migrated (and continues migrating) into just about every style you can imagine. Though they’re more difficult to track down than their more robust and darker peers, these beers are a wonderful balance between deep maltiness and expressive American hops.
British brown ales are wonderfully rich beers with flavors of toffee, caramel, nuts, and light cocoa. They don’t feature hops at all, instead favoring those rich and sweet malty flavors. Since the hop explosion occurred before Americans tried their hands at brown ales, these beers were bound to be hoppier. They also follow the “bigger is better” trend we see constantly through American styles, featuring more prominent chocolate and roast character than their British cousins.
The origins of the style are a bit murky. In his iconic text on beer and food, The Brewmaster’s Table, Garrett Oliver suggests that his predecessor at the Brooklyn Brewery, Bill Moeller, was the first to play with this style around 1989. The BJCP guidelines instead suggest that early homebrew hobbyists collectively “invented” the style. The answer, like most of these kinds of questions, is almost certainly “both/and” rather than “either/or.” Brooklyn Brewery did add their Brooklyn Brown as a regular brand offering in the early 1990s, and American homebrewers, ever the odd-beer enthusiasts, probably still drink (and brew) this style more than anyone else.
This style has stayed close to its roots through the craft beer explosion of the last decade. While IPAs, sours, and stouts are evolving dramatically, American Brown Ales have, for the most part, stayed in their lane. Sure, you’ll find brown ales with lactose and other adjunct additions (we’ve got one you’ll love that tastes like chai tea!), but these are typically marketed a bit differently. Traditional American Browns have found their home as a seasonal offering during the cooler months of the fall. They’re a perfect bridge between the pale, refreshing beers of the summer months and the deep, dark stouts and barleywines that carry you through the winter. This beer is great for a lot of occasions, but for us it reaches perfection by a sunset campfire in the backcountry after a day of hiking. Add the fall colors and you’ve got one of the most memorable nights you’ll have.
Aroma – Wonderfully complex and warming balance of malt and hops. Significant maltiness features caramel, toffee, nuts, and cocoa American hop characters of citrus, pine, resin.
Appearance – Deep brown.
Flavor – Medium bitterness. Lingers evenly or favoring malt. No significant roast or burnt character.
Mouthfeel – Medium body Medium-length finish.
Vitals – 5.5 – 9.0% ABV, 55 – 90 IBU
Serve fresh in Pint glass at 38º
A malty but hoppy beer frequently with chocolate and caramel flavors. The hop flavor and aroma complements and enhances the malt rather than clashing with it.
Moderate malty-sweet to malty-rich aroma with chocolate, caramel, nutty, and/or toasty qualities. Hop aroma is typically low to moderate, of almost any variety that complements the malt. Some interpretations of the style may feature a stronger hop aroma, an American or New World hop character (citrusy, fruity, tropical, etc.), and/or a fresh dry hopped aroma (all are optional). Fruity esters are moderate to very low. The dark malt character is more robust than other brown ales, yet stops short of being overly porter-like. The malt and hops are generally balanced.
Light to very dark brown color. Clear. Low to moderate off-white to light tan head.
Medium to moderately-high malty-sweet or malty rich flavor with chocolate, caramel, nutty, and/or toasty malt complexity, with medium to medium-high bitterness. The medium to medium-dry finish provides an aftertaste having both malt and hops. Hop flavor can be light to moderate, and may optionally have a citrusy, fruity, or tropical character, although any hop flavor that complements the malt is acceptable. Very low to moderate fruity esters.
Medium to medium-full body. More bitter versions may have a dry, resiny impression. Moderate to moderately-high carbonation.
Most commercial American Browns are not as aggressive as the original homebrewed versions, and some modern craft-brewed examples. This style reflects the current commercial offerings typically marketed as American Brown Ales rather than the hoppier, stronger homebrew versions from the early days of homebrewing. These IPA-strength brown ales should be entered in the Specialty IPA as Brown IPAs.
An American style from the modern craft beer era. Derived from English Brown Ales, but with more hops. Pete’s Wicked Ale was one of the first and best known examples, and inspired many imitations. Popular with homebrewers, where very hoppy versions were sometimes called Texas Brown Ales (this is now more appropriately a Brown IPA).
Well-modified pale malt, plus crystal and darker malts (typically chocolate). American hops are typical, but continental or New World hops can also be used.
More chocolate and caramel type flavors than American Pale or Amber Ales, typically with less prominent bitterness in the balance. Less bitterness, alcohol, and hop character than Brown IPAs. More bitter and generally hoppier than English Brown Ales, with a richer malt presence, usually higher alcohol, and American/New World hop character.
Original Gravity (°Plato) 1.040-1.060 (10-14.7 °Plato)
Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (°Plato) 1.010-1.018 (2.6-4.6 °Plato)
Alcohol by Weight (Volume) 3.3%-5.0% (4.2%-6.3%)
Bitterness (IBU) 30-45
Color SRM (EBC) 15-26 (30-52 EBC)
More hoppy and with a bit more roasted character than English Brown Ales. Less hoppy than a Brown IPA (a tough distinction to make)
A single infusion mash is traditional, and hopping rates vary depending on desired bitterness and aroma profile. Fermented around 68º for a clean yeast profile.
AT THE BREWPUB: Smash burger and fries
CAMPFIRE FOOD: MDhaal Bhat (Curried Sherpa Rice) and S’mores
FROM BF DISTILLING CO: Vermont Common Whiskey
NEW: Jack Johnson
OLD: Ralph Vaughan Williams, Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Pour brown ale into a high ball glass. Add rye, maple syrup, and coke to a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously to chill. Strain into the beer, then garnish with cinnamon stick and freshly grated nutmeg.