Style Profile: Brown Ale

Posted on 12.24.07 5:30PM under Brown Ale, Style Profile

Mug of Brown AleIn the old days, all the beer was brown. They didn’t have a good way to malt the grains at a specific temperature for a specific time, so all malts were fairly highly kilned. Thus a brown color. This was probably before there were really “beer styles” per se. But now we have a big system for classifying beer, and there is a set of categories for Brown Ales.

There are three main types of Brown ales: Mild, English Brown, and American Brown. Mild is a British beer style that is a low alcohol, classically sessionable brown ale. While a low alcohol content – generally less than 4% ABV – is hallmark, there is still plenty of flavor. Bitterness is typically mild, with the focus on the malt flavors. But with a medium brown color, the malts will impart a tasty, yet approachable flavor. I think of Mild as a classic cask ale – served cellar temp with just a spritz of bubbles in there.

English Brown has a Northern Type and Southern Type, but basically, English Brown is a heavy duty Mild. More of a standard 5% ABV range, just a tad browner, and with perhaps a more assertive and balanced hop character. Think of Newcastle – that’s a classic English Brown ale, and perhaps the most famous one.

American Brown ales are a standard “American” adaptation of a British style. It is a Brown ale with significantly increased hop presence in bitterness, flavor, and aroma. These days, American browns really run the gamut, from more traditional, subtle offerings to over-the-top brown beasts.

No matter the sub-category, expect a brown ale to be a medium brown, but not even verging on black. The malts will probably play a central role in the flavor, but they may be nutty or chocolaty or a bit roasty or somewhere in between. The hops will normally be more subdued, but some brewers might choose to accentuate the hops in a way that reflects their identity.

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