Monthly Archives: November 2014

Brown Beers Get No Luvin’: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.2)

Raise your hand if brown beer is one of your all-time favourites.

… … …          … … …          … … …Newcastle_Brown_Ale_6-pack (WikiCommons-LokkoRobson)Just as I expected: not too many hands.

Brown beers get no luvin’. Maybe it’s our infatuation with IPAs and IBUs. Maybe it’s brown beer’s vaguely middle-of-the-road status: Brown ale has precious little in common with a lager, Pils, cream ale or Kölsch, and doesn’t quite match the intensity of most porters and stouts. Brown ale ranges in colour from dark amber to chestnut to copper-brown, sometimes even dark brown. But other beers that aren’t subject to the brown beer stigma share these characteristics as well, like some pale ales and old ales.

Some English bitters flirt with the outer edges of brown––no less brown than a Sam Smith Nut Brown, which is actually of the dark amber persuasion. Many barleywines exhibit varying hues of brown as well, and guess what? They don’t suffer from any image problems whatsoever. And then there’s all those lighter-coloured and less intensely-hued porters. Doing just fine too. Brown beer loses out because it’s called Brown Beer. I mean, can you really call a beer “Back in Brown,” or “Fade to Brown,” or “All Cats at Night Are Brown”? WritingDifference (www-press-uchicago-edu)No. “My Brown Cardigan” might be as good as it gets. If that fails, name the beer after your (brown) dog.

But is this a mere hue and cry over colour? It’s more than that, I think. The colour spectrum of brown beer shades over into a hybridity of aroma and flavour as well: not quite pale ale, not quite porter. We’re at a loss when confronted with a brown beer. Are brown beers malty or hoppy? Full-flavoured or a well-choreographed ballet of moderate levels of malt and hops? Sessionable? Dry or slightly sweet? All of the above? Brown beers may well be the quintessential “undecidable” beer style. Which is, perhaps, why we decide against it when the choices at our local bottle shop or taproom are so vast.

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It’s still quite busy here in Tempest Land. While my more involved writing projects sit on the backburner to make room for my brew kettle––I’ve been catching up on homebrewing projects all week––here’s another Saturday Six-Pack for your enjoyment.IMG_1854 If Saturday’s too far off and/or you live in the U.S., drink these eminently autumnal beers with your Thanksgiving dinner.

Last time, I pulled together a selection of beer styles that I drink less often than other styles. This time the rationale’s similar, the only difference being that I actually drink my fair share of brown beer. I’m going to assume, however, that brown beers aren’t what many a beer drinker would bring to a gathering of like-minded beverage enthusiasts. For the purposes of this six-pack, I have bracketed out other styles that are brown in colour and sometimes in name, such as Oud Bruin, Bock and Doppelbock, and Munich Dunkel.

* * *

Since not all of us are brown beer aficionados, what can we expect from these beers?

If you’re a porter fan, you’ll be interested to learn that the contemporary English mild ale (sometimes called “dark mild”) is likely one of the beers that made it into early porter mixes. Indeed, some contemporary versions are reminiscent of lower-gravity brown porter. Today, “mild” refers to a relative lack of hop bitterness; historically, however, the term was reserved for younger beers that had not yet developed the sourness of aged batches.

Around the turn of the twentieth century, breweries began bottling a slightly sweeter rendition of this ale as an answer to the growing reaction against vinous vatted porter and milds that went south all too quickly. English brown ales of this sort are generally split into sub-styles along geographic lines. Southern English (or “London-style”) brown ales are darker, sweeter, and lower in alcohol than their northern counterparts. Brown ale originated in London, where the calcium carbonate- and sodium chloride-rich water favoured the production of darker styles such as porter, stout, and dark mild. Perhaps due to the cultural influence of the capital city, this southern type of brown ale came to be brewed throughout England. As is the case with mild ales, London-style browns are beers that you hardly ever see in North America, unless you happen to be judging at a homebrew competition. The style is also becoming increasingly rare even in Olde Albion.

But brown ale lives on as a style associated with the northeast of England, even if what we now call Northern English brown ale or, simply, nut brown ale, debuted on the opposite end of England in Cornwall. This is a nutty and biscuit-like beer ranging in colour from dark amber to reddish-brown, and one that is drier and has less caramel character than its London-style relative to the south. The hop notes are more pronounced than in a Southern English brown, but not so much as to overwhelm the nut-and-biscuit malt profile. Roast notes make an occasional and subtle appearance in these styles as well.

As I’m sure no one will find in the least bit surprising, North American interpretations of the style are, generally, hoppier and maltier. As per the BJCP Style Guidelines, American brown ale “can be considered a bigger, maltier, hoppier interpretation of Northern English Brown Ale or a hoppier, less malty brown porter, often including [a] citrus-accented hop presence.” My favourite American brown ales have a distinctive barley tea-like character––mugi-cha, for anyone who has had the pleasure of drinking this cold barley tea on a sultry summer day in Japan––and a roasted accent that falls between bitter-sweet chocolate and coffee.

*The Newcastle Brown Ale website suggests a serving temperature of 38-40F (3-4C), but in my experience these beers do much better at cellar temperature. If you drink them cool or cold, you won’t get any of the subtle malt characteristics that only come into their own around 50F (10C) or higher. This is particularly the case with English examples you might come across.

Ellie’s Brown Ale (Avery Brewing Company, Colorado). Pleasant roast malts predominate but don’t overpower the dark chocolate in this pecan-brown beer with russet highlights.Avery - Ellies6pk (averybrewing-com) The aromas are earthy, with just the slightest hint of licorice. On the palate, a residual maple sweetness counters a chocolate-accented roast character intertwined with malted milk and toffee. Hops play a supporting role, contributing an almost eucalyptus-like herbal-medicinal touch and a smoothly bitter undertone.

Boffo Brown Ale (Dark Horse Brewing Company, Michigan). Deeply hued dark chestnut brown with mahogany highlights, the aroma of this beer doubles the appearance to suggest that we’re nearing porter territory. The complex malt character shines, with dark chocolate and cocoa-dusted dark cherry mingling with baking spice. Fig jam makes an appearance, with a sprinkle of ground ginger mixed in. All of this quickly crests into a Campari-like bitterness, leading to a lingering finish reminiscent of a high-end cup of cocoa.

Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale (Samuel Smith Old Brewery, England). The crystal-clear and beautifully hued dark amber liquid in your glass announces fine things to come. Sam Smith’s tell-tale earthy-licorice-anise aroma pervades a finely-orchestrated combination of toffee and apples with a touch of vanilla that is almost cream soda-like.SamSmith AngelWhiteHorse (samuelsmithbrewery-co-uk) The malt accents fall on biscuit and toasted nuts, with layered dark cherry and hazelnut teaming up with ghee and butterscotch to round out the ensemble. The nutty finish features an appetizing and almost tannic dryness.

Tumbler Autumn Brown Ale (Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, California). Roast notes of bitter-sweet chocolate intermingle with floral-pine hops to make this beer the most identifiably “American” of the lot. Like the Boffo Brown, its complexion and aromas brush up against the boundaries of porterdom. Tumbler Autumn Brown is a compelling mix of bright levity and earthy seriousness: a smooth and balanced interlacing of toffee and stewed dark fruit, a whiff of autumn smokiness, and bright flavor hops keep things on the graceful side. The long and beguiling finish is reminiscent of the kirsch-soaked cherries in Black Forest cherry cake. N.B.: As of 2014, this beer is no longer available as a stand-alone offering, but you can still get it as part of Sierra Nevada’s Fall Variety Pack.

Old Brown Dog Ale (Smuttynose Brewing Company, New Hampshire). What’s with all the dogs gracing the labels of American brown ales? Cuddly-looking old brown dog or no, this is one flavourful brown ale––the brown ale, in fact, that convinced me some years ago that brown ales were a style worth a second look. If Smuttynose’s Old Brown Dog looks almost identical to Sam Smith’s Nut Brown Ale, it is to fruitiness what Sam Smith is to nuttiness. In many ways, this beer reminds me of some Munich Dunkels and Märzens that I’ve had: toasty fresh bread and plum-dark cherry. Layered together with this Munich-like malt character comes a dash of cocoa and bright maple sugar en route to a fruity-bitter off-dry finish.

Upslope Brown Ale (Upslope Brewing Company, Colorado).Upslope Brown (upslopebrewing-com) Upslope’s offering is the most “woodsy” of the beers in this six-pack, and its roasted signature is also one of the most prominent of the beers featured here. Wisps of smoke intertwine with earthy forest floor, cocoa powder, maple sap, and lightly charred coffee before yielding mid-palate to plum-fruit. The dry and moderately astringent bitter finish opens onto an aftertaste of spiced, roasted nuts.

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Even if it’s only Monday, grab a six-pack of these under-rated and inexpensive beers to accompany your Thanksgiving meal, to sip over the coming weekend, or to sample with a group of friends.

What are some of your favourite brown beers? Let us know in the comments.

Related Tempest Articles

Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.1)

Drinking Lager in an Age of Extreme Taste

Further Reading

Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer, Brewing Classic Styles (Boulder: Brewers Publications, 2007).

Michael Jackson, The New World Guide to Beer (Philadelphia: Running Press, 1988).

Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont, The World Atlas of Beer (New York: Sterling Epicure, 2012).

BJCP Style Guidelines, 2008 edition.


Newcastle Brown Ale Six-Pack: Lokko Robson (Wiki Commons)

Cover of Derrida’s Writing and Difference: University of Chicago Press

Witbier yeast starter gone wild: F.D. Hofer

Ellie’s Brown Ale: Avery

The Angel & White Horse Pub next to Sam Smith’s Tadcaster brewery: Samuel Smith’s Brewery

Can of Upslope: Upslope Brewing

© 2014 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol. 1)

It’s been quite a busy past few weeks here in Tempest Land, and all of my writing projects are on hold. Last weekend I judged at the annual FOAM Cup homebrew competition in Tulsa, one of the larger competitions in the southern Midwest.Muji Notebooks 2 It’s been several months since I’ve judged at a homebrew competition, so the experience was excellent preparation for the current task at hand: the BJCP Tasting Exam this Saturday.

Finally! A piece of paper to legitimize all that talk of marzipan, and all those adjectival assaults and proverbial transgressions that accompany my pronouncements on beer!

The alternative is this:

Aromas: Faint malt notes. A sweet, corn-like aroma and low levels of DMS are commonly found. Hop aroma low to none. […] Faint esters may be present in some examples, but are not required. No diacetyl. […]

Flavor: Low to medium-low hop bitterness. Low to moderate maltiness and sweetness, varying with gravity and attenuation. Usually well attenuated. […] A low to moderate corny flavor from corn adjuncts is commonly found, as is some DMS. Finish can vary from somewhat dry to faintly sweet from the corn, malt, and sugar. Faint fruity esters are optional. No diacetyl.

And more of the same over sixty-odd pages of BJCP guidelines. A convenient short-hand for judges, to be sure. But pair this level of description with a few barleywines or Scotch ales and you have a perfect soporific.

In anticipation of having to switch into BJCP mode for the exam, I’ve been mowing down broad swaths of time brushing up on the causes of, and remedies for,IMG_1833 various technical and stylistic flaws. I’ve been getting together with friends to do blind tastings of beers dosed with extracts of this and that, and to figure out which beer is the different one in triangulated tastings––much harder than it sounds! I have also been tasting plenty of beer.

Which brings us to this weekend’s six-pack.

The rationale behind this particular six-pack is simple: our taste preferences can prevent us from expanding our beer-appreciation horizons. I’m no different, so when I was reviewing the BJCP Style Guidelines in preparation for the test, I keyed in on styles that I don’t often drink. The reasons for this are varied. Either the style has limited availability in North America, or the selection in bottle shops and supermarkets favours mass-produced and not particularly flavourful examples of a given style (try finding a good Irish red). Sometimes I gravitate toward certain brands. And sometimes I’m just not a fan of a particular style.

In the spirit of shaking things up a bit, here’s a selection of beers that’ll get you out of your flavour groove for the weekend––assuming you’re in a groove, of course. In some cases, you may be genuinely surprised by a style you had ignored; in other cases, drinking these beers might make you appreciate the styles you like that much more. Not all of these are stellar interpretations of a given style. After all, if you’re going to expand your sensory horizons, you can’t always drink the best of the best. Most of these beers, however, have the merit of being widely available and inexpensive. Consider it a break for your pocket book.NorthCoast BlueStar Label - northcoastbrewing-com I’ll include the BJCP category of each beer should you wish to see how the guidelines represent the style.

Blue Star (North Coast Brewing Co., California). A refreshing and spritzy American wheat beer with a resinous hop character accented by candied citrus peel. (Category 6D: American Wheat or Rye Beer)

Palm Speciale (Brouwerij Palm, Belgium). A best-seller in Belgium and highly drinkable, this amber beer should, at its best, exhibit an aromatically bready-toasty malt presence balanced by spicy-herbal hops and an orange note from the house yeast. (Category 16B: Belgian Pale Ale)

400 Pound Monkey (Left Hand Brewing Company, CO). When you can’t get your hands on a Sam Smith or St. Peter’s, English IPA, this local rendition will provide you with a firm and characterful honey-toast malt backdrop for an appetizing beer bracingly hopped with resinous, earthy, and cedar-woodsy English varieties. How’s that for a string of adjectives and adverbs? (Category 14A: English IPA)

Little Kings Original Cream Ale (Hudepohl-Schoenling Brewery, Ohio). You can’t beat those cute little 7-oz green bottles. As for what’s in those bottles? Expect an effervescent beverage with a graham cracker-like malt sweetness and a distinct aroma of corn, which is one of the ingredients in this quintessentially American beer.LittleKingsBottle - ks-worldclassbeer-com Hop spicing is delicate, making for a smooth and quaffable alternative to a Kölsch-style beer on a hot summer day. (Category 6A: Cream Ale)

Smithwick’s Premium Irish Ale (Guinness & Co., Ireland). These beers are meant to be easy-drinking pints, and feature a fruity, malt-forward toast and caramel character sometimes reminiscent of butterscotch. If you’re lucky, your bottle won’t be nearly as oxidized as mine was. (Category 9D: Irish Red Ale)

Spaten Dunkel (Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu, Germany). Not that I don’t love a good Munich Dunkel. But I tend to shy away from the Spaten products because I’ve had a few too many that have arrived in my glass quite fatigued from the journey. I was pleasantly surprised by this bottle that one of my blind-tasting coconspirators brought over this past week. Though Spaten’s Dunkel doesn’t really match the melanoidin-rich toasty malt goodness of, say, Ayinger’s Altbayrisch Dunkel, it’s a decent introduction to the style. (Category 4B: Munich Dunkel)

Let me know in the comments what you liked or didn’t like about any of these beers.



Muji Notebooks:

Spices and extracts: F.D. Hofer

Blue Star:

Little Kings:

© 2014 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Hoisting a Tankard on Tempest’s First Anniversary

The leaves have begun to fall from the trees where I live and the days portend cooler weather to come. It’s time to put the grill away for the season and drink up the last of my saisons before digging out the imperial stouts, robust porters, barley wines, and Doppelbocks that complement a smoky autumn evening so well.IMG_1597It’s also time for me to open a special bottle of beer I’ve been saving for the occasion of this, Tempest’s first birthday. On my way through Indiana this past summer, I found an oddity in South Bend that combines two of my favourite styles in one bottle: Schneider’s Tap X Porter Weisse.

SchneiderWeisse - TapX PorterBut before I take a sip––wow! a porter with a rocky head like a Hefeweizen!––let me raise my glass to all of you who have read my posts and articles over the past year. Cheers! It’s been an exciting ride so far. I’ve met some very generous people with some fascinating stories to tell. And I’ve enjoyed sitting down to write about it.

The Year in Brief

Blogs privilege the moment, making older posts difficult to find in the depths of the virtual archives. Before getting the Porter Weisse out of the fridge, I updated Tempest’s annotated index in case you have a rainy (or snowy) Sunday afternoon and want to read any of the sixty-odd articles I’ve posted to date.

For the curious, the five articles that have gained the most traction over the year are these:

Keep your eyes out for an article I’ve been working on for eons now on the topic of cans versus bottles––a topic that usually occasions vigourous debate.IMG_1078Back in September, I posted the first of two interviews in my Industry Series, an occasional series of pieces that introduces readers to unique careers (some might even say dream jobs) within the beer/beverage industry. If you or someone you know who would like to be interviewed, get in touch.

One more thing before I start drinking my Porter Weisse in earnest: I’m hoping to expand my readership during my second year, so don’t forget to tell all your craft beer-drinking friends to like Tempest on Facebook or follow Tempest on Twitter (@TempestTankard). Consider subscribing to Tempest as well so you can get email updates as I post new material. Prost!

Not quite a tankard, but it'll do.

Not quite a tankard, but it’ll do for a toast.

And now for that beer. (Click here for tasting notes on Schneider’s Porter Weisse.)


Sky images by F.D. Hofer

Schneider’s Porter Weisse

FDH by Max M.

© 2014 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Not Your Average Wheat Beer: Schneider’s Porter Weisse

G. Schneider & Sohn is a southern German brewery that knows a thing or three about Bavarian-style wheat beers. Founded in 1872 just after Bavaria had joined a recently-unified Germany under Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm I, Schneider Weisse has since produced rivers and lakes of top-fermenting wheat beers.2 Georg I Rezept When Georg Schneider I purchased the right to brew Weissbier from the Wittelsbach monarch, King Ludwig II, he was the first since shortly after the enactment of the Reinheitsgebot in 1516 to found a private Weissbier brewery in Bavaria. A century-and-a-half later, a Schneider––Georg Schneider VI––is still at the helm.

A brewery owned by the same family for generations. A brewery dedicated to tradition with a near-exclusive focus on wheat beer. But not a brewery clinging to the formalities of tradition. Schneider Weisse brewmaster, Hans-Peter Drexler, collaborated with Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn to produce the Hopfenweisse, a hoppy wheat beer that brings 40 IBUs to the table. If that doesn’t sound like much compared to your standard-issue IPA, consider that the Scheider Weisse Original hovers around a restrained 14 IBUs. A few years back, Schneider Weisse also released a blond Weizenbock made with Nelson Sauvin hops––quite a radical departure,SchneiderWeisse - Hopfenweisse considering that German “noble” hops such as Hallertauer carry the bulk of whatever small hop charge there is in typical Bavarian-style wheat beers.

So when I saw that Schneider Weisse had released a Porter Weisse, I was, to say the least, intrigued. According to the “Tasting Note” signed by none other than Georg VI. Schneider and hung around the bottle’s neck:

It was one of those unforgettable nights in a London Pub. I was with some English brewing artists […] and we had a funny discussion about who of us brewed the better and more traditional beers. My friend and colleague Alister admired especially Tap 7 Unser Original while I had fallen in love with a London Porter. Some beers later the idea was born: why shouldn’t we try to brew a combination of both beer styles?

A perfect union of two very different beer styles, or a train wreck in the making? “Some beers later” is always a bit of a risky proposition, so I decided to find out.

And now here I am, contemplating my inky black beer with its mahogany and pecan-brown highlights and huge tan wheat beer cap of rocky foam.IMG_1805 Truly a hybrid right from the start. First impression: Plenty going on. Vanilla liqueur-spiked banana, with some bitter-sweet baker’s chocolate mixed in. A dash of Hallertauer spice combined with cloves and a hint of cinnamon. And Bock-like with its port and brandy notes. Am I detecting a family resemblance with Schneider’s Aventinus here?

Porter Weisse is more Weissbier than porter, but even that’s not entirely accurate, especially once the berries chime in. Then comes the plum-prune character, which, along with the cocoa/baker’s chocolate, builds the bridge between the two styles. As the beer warms up, it exudes some of that marzipan-like nuttiness mingled with banana that I associate with certain kinds of daiginjô saké.

If the bouquet is expansive, Porter Weisse’s palate is taut and restrained. Paradoxically, though, this medium-bodied ale remains full-flavoured throughout, with a peppery carbonation that manages the dual feat of being effervescent and creamy at the same time. The aroma symphony reprises itself, adding layers of fruit cake/Black Forest cherry cake and dates. Marzipan and spiced maraschino cherry make a cameo appearance near the off-dry cocoa finish. A berry-like acidity gives the beer lift, and a Kirsch-like alcohol ensures that the beer will warm you on a cold day.

As I’m draining the last drop from my glass, I’ve decided that Schneider’s Porter Weisse is a unique and complex ale, if not exactly a seamless convergence of porter and wheat beer. Southern Bavarian wheat beer yeast is a prominent player, and there isn’t much in the way of coffee/mocha roastiness typical of porters, even if some cocoa and bitter-sweet chocolate makes its way into the mix.3 WBM nachts blau All in all, the Porter Weisse is not quite as impressive as Schneider’s Mein Nelson Sauvin, but it does have a singular charm about it. If anything, though, I’d like just a bit more “something” in the mid-section––maybe a touch of toffee or caramel to round things out.

At the moment, Porter Weisse is a limited-edition offering, but hopefully that will change. If you can find it, Porter Weisse is a beer that you can lay down in your cellar for later. When you break it out, serve it starting at 50F (10C) and then let the beer evolve as you sip it with friends and family.

A beer worthy of a special occasion. Two Tankards.

Related Tempest Articles

A Coal Town and a Cold One: My Hefeweizen Craft Beer Conversion

Hefeweizen: A Beer for All Seasons

So You Wanna Brew a Weizen


Horst D. Dornbusch, Prost! The Story of German Beer (Boulder, CO: Brewers Publications, 1997).

The Schneider Weisse website contains a wealth of information, much of it available in English.


With the exception of the bottle of Porter Weisse (F.D. Hofer), all images are from the Schneider Weisse website.

© 2014 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.