Brown ales are fun. They are unpretentious and yet anything but basic: nutty, roasty, slightly sweet, and, well, brown. If you could toast one and put butter on it, you would. Let’s have a chat about brown ale, which is so much more than its color.
A Brief History of Time and Brown Ale
Brown ales were first produced in 17th century london. Brewers made beer entirely from brown malt (also the base ingredient for many traditional porters). The brown malt gives the beer a brown color. Known for their creativity, the English brewers came up with the term “brown ale” to describe their brown ale.
Brown ales persisted through the early 1800s and could range from low alcohol, sweet versions to higher ABVs with a hoppy kick. After the start of the 19th century, however, the style declined as brewers replaced brown malt with the cheaper, more readily available pale malt.
Luckily, the hipsters at Mann’s brewery got a nostalgic bee in their bonnet and started churning out a low alcohol bottled brown beer, with peak production occurring in the 1930s. Around that time, Colonel Jim Porter launched another version, a stronger, more bitter brew produced in Newcastle Upon Tyne. Newcastle Brown Ale became wildly popular in Britain in the 60s and 70s among students and was also synonymous with the working class. (Say, wasn’t it the students who popularized biere de garde, too?)
Brown ales became popular among American craft brewers in the 90s, and we have been making them and drinking them ever since.
How Are Brown Ales Made Today?
Brewing a delicious brown ale involves a combination of quality ingredients, precise techniques, and attention to detail. Historically, brown ales used exclusively brown malt (see above). Today, however, most varieties use a pale malt complemented by specialty malts like crystal and chocolate. The use of these specialty malts contributes to the characteristic color and flavor of brown ales.
The hopping process in brown ale brewing is typically moderate, allowing the malt flavors to shine. The choice of hops may vary, but they are generally used for balancing sweetness rather than imparting a dominant hop presence.
Fermentation and yeast selection play crucial roles in shaping the final product. Some brown ales use ale yeast strains that add fruity or nutty notes, enhancing the overall complexity.
What Do American Brown Ales Taste Like?
In general, brown ales are known for their malty sweetness and a mild hop presence, creating a well-balanced flavor profile. The alcohol content and taste nuances vary depending on the region and type of hops used. In southern England, for example, brown ales tend to be lower in alcohol and have a sweeter taste. Northeastern varieties, including Newcastle, are higher in alcohol and have added hoppiness.
American brown ales have their own spin, which can include a faintly citrus aroma and dryer taste (thanks to our local hops strains). Of course, we have a version of brown ale at Diebolt, which also happens to be our monthly beer drop (the topic of this blog is purely coincidental).
Anyway, Diebolt’s Back Bowls Brown Ale ticks all the boxes of good, sturdy beer with a few twists and turns (we’re running with this skiing metaphor). It’s toasty. It’s roasty. It’s brown. We also won a prize for it, so…
…okay, TECHNICALLY, the price was for our Braggart’s Brown Ale. But this is a reboot of that recipe with a fresh lewk, so it still counts.
It’s All Downhill From Here
Now that you are an expert in brown ales, please buy some from us. Our lectures and adorable company are totally free, but paying customers are very helpful in allowing us to continue making these tasty brews. Visit our brewery on Mariposa for something on tap or take home a case of your favorite Diebolt cans. Or both. Why not both? See you there.