During some early January housecleaning, I discovered a homebrew recipe of mine from 20 years ago, for a Brown Ale:
6.6 lbs John Bull English Ale unhopped amber extract
0.5 lbs Crystal 40 °SRM
0.25 lbs black malt
2 tsp gypsum
2 oz Willamette pellets 4.2% aa (1/2 oz at knockout)
1/2 oz Mount Hood pellets (dry hop)
Wyeast London yeast #1028
Original gravity: 1.048
Terminal gravity: 1.009
IBUs (est): 23
abv (est): 5.1%
But what exactly is a brown ale?
Long-time beer mavens Ray Daniels and Jim Parker addressed that question in their collaborative 1998 effort —Brown Ale: History, Brewing Techniques, Recipes— one of the better books in the Brewers Publications style series.
To identify a brown ale style, the duo analyzed brown ales commercially available at the time, rather than relying on historical assumptions and stories.
Daniels and Parker point to the most likely candidate: caramel malts. When brewers infuse these caramel malts, especially the darker varieties, into the grists of their brown ales, they produce ales of rich color, malt complexity, and a "sweet, deep caramel-like flavor that many beer lovers describe as 'luscious.' "...the sublime result- a beer that is at once luxurious and quaffable."—From my 1999 review of the book.
These days, Brown Ale seems a style forgotten in the race for stratospheric hop levels.
So, here's a plea for more breweries to brew more brown ales. And at friendly session strength, not at thump-your-chest alcohol percentages. And freshly cask-conditioned.
I'll rely on poet John Milton, as he wrote in L'Allegro:
Sometimes, with secure delight,
The upland hamlets will invite,
When the merry bells ring round,
And the jocund rebecks sound
To many a youth and many a maid
Dancing in the chequered shade,
And young and old come forth to play
On a sunshine holiday,
Till the livelong daylight fail:
Then to the spicy nut-brown ale