Tag Archives: brown ale

Brown Beers (Still) Get No Luvin’

Brown beer has an image problem.

Joe Tindall over at The Fatal Glass of Beer (host of this month’s “The Session: Beer Blogging Friday”) sums it up well: “The unglamorous brown middle ground is consistently neglected.”

I wrote about this very same topic a few years back, so rather than reinvent the wheel, I’m going to cite some of that article here. For that piece, I cobbled together a 6-pack of brown beers that are still worth your time, so check ’em out. This time around, I’m going to give you the view from Continental Europe.

Though decidedly brown in colour, Scottish ales don’t languish under the same stigma as their counterparts south of the border.

But first I have to admit that I haven’t had too many beers that announce themselves as “brown beer/ale” since I’ve been in Vienna. For the most part, they’re just not that widely available. Most new’ish European brewers stick to styles that have stood the test of crowd-rated time, so to speak. IPAs and pale ales abound among Euro craft brewers, as do stouts, porters, and the occasional sour or barrel-aged beer. Beers that have “brown beer/ale” on the label? Not so much. That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of amber/copper/brown beers that you should check out in Europe or in the Euro aisle of your favourite bottle shop. There are. But these Bocks, Märzens, Dubbels, and Quads manage to avoid that never-land between Nacht und Nebel, night and dawn. (Ever heard of Aventinus getting dissed for being a brown beer? Me neither.)

So today I’m going to head out to my favourite bottle shop, BeerLovers, to see how brown beers are doing in Vienna’s vibrant craft beer community. While I’m doing that, here’s what I wrote a few years back:

Brown beers get no luvin’. And that’s a crying shame.

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. 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”? 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.

[…]

*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.

***

Now for those beers I rustled up at BeerLovers. Notably, Austria’s Bierol (rhymes with Tirol, where they’re from) suggests a serving temperature of 10C for its entry into the rather barren field of Continental European brown beer, so we’ll start our 2017 six-pack of brown beer here.

Going Hazelnuts (Bierol, Austria, 5.7%). As the name suggests, this beer has been finished with hazelnuts –– organic, no less. Going Hazelnuts exhibits none of the extract character that plagues so many browns ales featuring nuts. Toasty caramel, mocha, chocolate almonds, dried cherry, a hint of char, and earthy hop-spice round out the distinctive coffee/chocolate and roasted barley aromas, while creamy carbonation adds richness on the palate. Nut liqueur (Frangelico), and bitter chocolate set the stage for a mild floral-spicy hop note mid-palate that shades into licorice root and dark cherry near the off-dry finish. A classic brown ale that hits all the chocolate, coffee, and nut notes –– helped along by a well-integrated charge of hazelnuts.

Jackie Brown (Mikkeller, Denmark/Product of Belgium, 6%). The colour of milk chocolate, Mikkeller charts compelling new territory with a beer that uses American hops without hitting you over the head with them. Jackie Brown is also the kind of beer that highlights how much brown beer can have in common with barley wine. It starts off with malt aplenty: Ovaltine, toast, caramel, and black tea hinting at mugi-cha.* Earthy with some licorice, the aromas are also reminiscent of cherries and cinnamon-spiked cocoa. Give the beer some time to open up and you’ll be rewarded with another cascade of aromas and flavours: fir tree, caramelized orange zest, dates, Oloroso-like nut notes, a sassafras/root beer spiciness, and even some Japanese-style brown sugar (kuro-sato). Jackie Brown is no wall flower, with a clean bitterness that lends the beer a certain levity in the face of all that rich caramel. Intensely flavoured yet elegant, with a long, herbal-bitter finish accented by fruit and nuts. One Tankard

*Mugi-cha is a refreshing cold barley tea brewed up in Japan to combat the summer heat and humidity. It has a distinctive quality reminiscent of roasted barley, bran, and brown malt.

Imperial Brown Ale (Nøgne Ø, Norway, 7.5%). Nøgne Ø notes that what makes their IBA unique is their blend of English malts and predominantly American hops. In this case, claims of uniqueness bear themselves out. From the moment the beer hits the glass, its opalescent dark amber-bronze colour with orange hues clearly states that brown beers can look mighty fine. The “woodsiest” beer of the bunch, Nøgne Ø’s IBA exudes aromas of forest floor mixed with dark forest berries such as black berry and wild raspberry. Fir needles and caramelized orange zest meet rich brown sugar and toasty biscuit/cookie malt notes, and a dusting of baking spice adds depth. The beer’s a riot of flavours, but a contained one. American-style hops are clearly present in the high end of the mix, balanced by a hint of molasses and brooding toast-toffee-anise bass notes. A digestif-like bitterness contributes additional layers of complexity to the beguiling residual sweetness, while dried apricots linger in the aftertaste. Pleasantly warming alcohol makes this the perfect beer to cap a day in the snow. Cellar-worthy. Two Tankards

Mochaccino Messiah, Coffee Brown Ale (To Øl, Denmark, 7%). It seems that Scandanvians like their brown ales, nomenclature be damned. To Øl’s entry into the field makes use of flaked oats, lactose, and coffee. Lots of coffee. Mochaccino Messiah is slightly darker than milk chocolate, with a foam cap reminiscent of the crema atop an espresso. The aromatics are distinctly coffee-driven: roasted coffee beans with that green/jalapeno “bite” common to many coffee beers, and with an interesting top note that flirts with cassis. Hints of fir emerge from behind the coffee screen along with a suggestion of baking spice and vanilla. Carbonation is lively, uniting with the bitterness to create an uplifting peppery effervescence. Bittersweet chocolate makes a cameo appearance, along with cocoa and a hint of cinnamon/cardamom. As the beer warms, it takes on a wine-like character that gestures toward toasty-oak Cabernet Franc with raspberry-jalapeno-pepper. But in the end, it’s all about the coffee, perhaps too much so.

Northumberland Brown Ale (Austmann Bryggeri, Norway, 5.5%). Rounding out the Nordic entries in this 6-pack is Austmann’s tribute to dark mild ale. Inky dark chocolate brown in colour, Northumberland looks like a porter. Expect plenty of freshly ground dark-roast coffee along with fruity chocolate notes that fold in raspberry, boysenberry and plum-cherry yeast aromatics. Firmly bittered and slightly acrid, the beer offers up licorice root and dark-roasted coffee, with plenty of bitter chocolate, a dash of chocolate liqueur, raspberry, and hazelnuts. The effervescent carbonation borders on prickly, making for a bracingly taut beer –– the liquid analogue of dark berry compote over toast with your morning coffee on the side.

2015 Wildshuter Männerschokolade (Stiegl, Austria, 5.5%). Bookending our 6-pack of Continental brown ales is a fine beer from one of Austria’s regional breweries. Ales aren’t the first thing that come to mind if you’re familiar with this brewery whose majestic beer garden overlooks the old town of Salzburg. But Stiegl recognized that there was something to this whole craft beer thing, and started a line of 750-mL releases under their Stieglgut Wildshut label. The brewers make astute use of alpine peacock barley, chocolate wheat malt, and black oats to create this chestnut brown ale that delivers luscious malt aromas and textured flavours in spades. Ovaltine, mugi-cha, cocoa, dark chocolate, brown sugar, black cherry, roasted nuts, and salted caramel make up a malt palette that recalls Baltic porter at times. Dates, raisins, and figs contribute to the dried-fruit complexity, while a hint of alpine meadows from the Central European hops carries over onto the palate. Cola-sassafras and a subtle mid-palate pepper-herbaceousness add a playful bright note to the crème caramel-like malt richness. Despite all the chocolate, mocha, and dark cherry malt character, Männerschokolade finishes dry with just the slightest suggestion of chocolate cake-like sweetness. A smooth, flavourful, and extremely drinkable beer that won’t knock you to the floor after a few glasses. Two Tankards

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If you’re in Europe, grab a six-pack of these under-rated beers to sip over the weekend! If you’re in North America, ask your favourite bottle shop to check availability with its distributors. Enjoy!

Related Tempest Articles

A World of Stouts for Your Weekend

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

Say No to Style Loyalty

The Lost Abbey’s 10 Commandments: A Warming Beer for Winter Evenings

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).

BJCP Style Guidelines, 2008 and 2015 editions.

Images

With the exception of the Session Friday logo and the logos and labels from brewery and bottle shop websites (Mikkeller, Nøgne Ø, Stiegl, BeerLovers), images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2017 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

Images

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.