Sunday, January 04, 2009

How Now, Brown Ale?

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 in the Brewers Publications style series.

click for review of Brown AleTo 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


  1. Brown ale is alive and well here in Richmond, Virginia! How did that homebrew recipe ever come out?

  2. As a Richmond native, I can vouch for the tasty Legend brew. The market penetration is great, even at the worst bars You can order a Legend Brown. Back in the late 90's Legend brewed a seasonal 'session ale'. Low alcohol, British style ale. Would love to see it return.


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