Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 11- English Brown Ale

23 03 2010

In many ways, British browns can be considered the “mother beer” for all British ales. Before maltsters had the precision of coke-fueled kilns, all malt was brown. And as all beer was cask-aged and and blended, brown ales eventually became the inspiration for porters and then stouts. Brown ales are the most basic of ales from the British Isles and the oldest, too. Generally, they are divided by geography (Norther Brown Ales and Southern Brown Ales) but a “Mild” version is found all over.

Northern Brown Ales (also known as Nut Brown Ales) are by far the most popular. They tend to be lighter, dryer and have larger alcohol. One of the most popular brands of the Northern Brown Ale is the Newcastle Brown. The popularity of it has found its way to this side of the Atlantic and many craft breweries will offer a Nut Brown or Brown Ale of their own.

Southern Brown Ales (also known as London-Style) are lest popular than their Northern cousins. They were probably developed later as a reaction to the rising popularity of the porter style. They tend to be darker, sweeter, and have a lower gravity. They are rarer than the Northern Style and usually found within the general London area.

Milds are the rarest of all. They tend to be cask conditioned and few breweries bother to make them at all. In modern terms, “Mild” may be in relation to “Bitter (Pale Ales)”. But traditionally, it was probably used in relation to the age of the beer in the casks as older beers would often take on a slight sour character.

As pale ales became the drink of choice for the rising middle class and gentry during England’s Industrial Revolution, brown ales were less expensive and remained being the drink for lower and working class types. This may relate to the geographcial distinction. Many of the most popular brown ales are from more traditionally working class cities including Manchester, Tadcaster, and Newcastle.

Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 11-English

Photo Credit: Russ Neumeier

Brown Ale

Subcategories: Mild, Northern English Brown Ale, Southern English Brown Ale

Aroma: All brown ales should be malt forward with low to now hop aromas. Southern Browns should have a rich toffee, caramel and dark raisin character. While Northern Browns and Milds should have light toffee and caramel character with very little buttery diacytl notes.

Appearance: Milds tend to be light brown to copper with a slight tan head to it. They are generally served unfiltered. Southern Browns can be dark brown to black and nearly always opaque. Generally clear although unfiltered. With a tan to off white head but with poor head retention. Northern Browns are a clear dark amber to reddish-brown color with low to moderate off-white to light tan head.

Flavor: Milds are malt forward with a wide variety of malt and yeast flavors. Can finish sweet or dry. With just enough bitterness to balance without overpowering. Southern Browns will be rich in malt roast with coffee, toffee, caramel and biscuit flavors. No to low hop bitterness perceived. Moderately sweet finish. Northern Browns will have a much more gentle maltiness as compared to the Southern style. A light malt toffee with a sweet, nutty flavor. A very well balanced but leaning more to the malt than the hop. A low, butterscotch diacetyl flavor may be noticeable.

Mouthfeel: Light to Medium body with low carbonation. Some may have a slight astringency to them due to darker roasts.

Ingredients: English pale malts as base with some specialty malts including caramel, biscuit and crystal. Light English hops and a characterful English yeast.

Technical Notes:
Original Gravity:
1.030-1.052
Final Gravity: 1.008-1.014
SRM (Malt Color): 10-35
IBUs: 10-30
ABV: 2.8-5.4%

Commercial Examples:
Mild:
Moorhouse Black Cat, Gale’s Festival Mild, Theakston Traditional Mild, Highgate Mild, Sainsbury Mild, Brain’s Dark, Banks’s Mild, Coach House Gunpowder Strong Mild, Woodforde’s Mardler’s Mild, Greene King XX Mild, Motor City Brewing Ghettoblaster
Southern English Brown Ale: Mann’s Brown Ale (bottled, but not available in the US), Harvey’s Nut Brown Ale, Woodeforde’s Norfolk Nog
Northern English Brown Ale: Newcastle Brown Ale, Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale, Riggwelter Yorkshire Ale, Wychwood Hobgoblin, Tröegs Rugged Trail Ale, Alesmith Nautical Nut Brown Ale, Avery Ellie’s Brown Ale, Goose Island Nut Brown Ale, Samuel Adams Brown Ale

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2 responses

3 04 2010
Barm

This is complete crap. Brown ale is one of the most modern British beers, dating from the 20th century, not the forebear of the others. It has nothing to do with Mild. Mild has a completely different and separate history.

4 04 2010
awinnett

I am sorry to hear that. Allow me to first say that this post was based off the BJCP Guidelines. While I do not always agree with the BJCP, nor do I think it is the end all be all of beer categories, these are the subcategories they have set up for competitions.

Furthermore, I am happy to site my sources for the history of English Browns. My history here is largely based off of the writings of Garrett Oliver in “The Brewmaster’s Table”, Randy Mosher in “Tasting Beer”, as well as the BJCP itself.

I am curious as to why you believe English Brown Ale is so modern as many of the beers listed by BJCP as proper examples date back to the Industrial Revolution.

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