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Brown Ales

Submitted by on January 13, 2010 – 11:39 AMOne Comment
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Brown Ales have been a staple part of British brewing traditions for nearly 300 years. In order to be considered a brown ale, a beer needs to be brewed with a combination of various types of brown malts. Most modern brown ales are brewed primarily with caramel malts and chocolate malts. Caramel malt contributes a sweet, caramel flavoring that often consists of a nuttiness once stewed and crystallized. Chocolate malt, which is actually a lightly roasted pale malt, does tend to contribute a chocolaty character but is actually named as such due to its color. Combining these two malts within the brewing process is what spawns the creation of the complex aromas and tastes that make up a brown ale.

Brown ales tend to be maltier and sweeter on the palate than traditional ales or pale ales. Some brews will lean towards fruity esters, while others tend to be drier with nutty components to them, but the majority of English brown ales convey a low hop aroma and a mild to medium bitterness. Usually brown ales contain a medium alcohol content, ranging from 4.0% to 7.0% ABV. Historically, brown ales that were darker, sweeter and lower in strength were favored primarily in London and lower England, while those in the northeast made theirs stronger, crisper, and lighter in color. This geographic delineation still exists today, but commercial distribution has made it more possible to find any kind of brown ale in any location.

English-Style Brown Ales: English-style brown ales, such as Newcastle Brown Ale, tend to be more smooth and sweet, taking flavors strongly from the caramel malt with which it is brewed. Newcastle Brown Ale is a lightly carbonated ale, which pours a rich reddish brown color and contains a fairly low hop concentration which allows for a very mild bitterness.

American Brown Ales: When brown ales were introduced to North America, the recipes started to become tweaked in various ways. Many American brown ales, like Maine’s Peak Organic Nut Brown Ale, are designed to mimic their English forefathers from London. Peak Organic Nut Brown Ale is traditional tasting, smooth brown ale with a low bitterness and a hint of nuttiness. Peak Organic Brown Ale is brewed from chocolate malt and Munich malt, which is typically the base malt for a bock style darker beer.

A vast amount of American brown ales, however, have been experimented with and altered from their original recipes. Brooklyn Brown Ale is a good example of an American neo-brown ale. Brooklyn Brewery uses more hops in its brown ale and therefore tastes more bitter and less sweet than a traditional English brown ale. Brooklyn Brown Ale is also lighter in color and produces a drier taste, much like the traditional brown ales of northeast England.