One of my favorite styles of beer are brown ales. There’s something about that malty/nutty/bitter chocolate flavor that I just love. They’re flavorful, sessionable, and satisfying….everything that’s great about beer.
And yet I’ve only brewed one once in my time as a brewer! How could a style so beloved to me be so neglected?
Because I am always trying to appease the palates of others. This person likes weizens, that person likes hoppy beer, and this other person loves spiced beers. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of those beers as well. But now it’s time to brew something for ME.
If no one else likes it, even better. 5 whole gallons of brown for me. 😛
So I went about coming up with a recipe. I decided not to go with a recipe kit, or a recipe from HomeBrewTalk. A style this dear to my heart has to be 100% mine. But I still needed a starting point. Something to aspire to be as good as, or (hopefully) better than.
Do I go with an English version? Maybe. The two English browns that I’ve had and enjoyed are Newcastle and Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown. Some people turn up their nose to Newcastle. Supposedly it’s a shadow of its former self. A victim of the macro-brewers’ desire to cut costs by using cheaper ingredients as it mass-produces a popular beer. Personally I still think Newcastle is a solid everyday beer. It’s not the best brown ale, but still an enjoyable one. Samuel Smith’s on the other hand, is right up there with the best of them. It’s possibly the Gold Standard for the Northern English style brown ale.
And then there’s the brown ales from this side of the pond. While there are quite a few out there, the two that immediately come to my mind are Sierra Nevada Tumbler, and Brooklyn Brewery Brown. I love the Tumbler. Great malty flavor, with a very solid American hop presence. I’ve even learned that Sierra Nevada uses a bit of smoked malt in it, which is surprising to me because I typically don’t care for beers with smoked malt in them. Brooklyn Brown is one of my favorite beers ever. It’s one of the beers that got me into craft beer to begin with, so it has a special place in my heart. It also tastes fantastic. I’ve always respected Brooklyn Brewery’s beers. Garret Oliver (Brooklyn’s Brewmaster) is one of the best in the business.
So anyway I decided to stay away from the Tumbler. While this would be a great brew to aim for, it’s “too American” for what I am trying to create. I want more of a English/American hybrid. I read up on the brown ale style in Ray Daniels’ Designing Great Beers, and put together my recipe. It fits the BJCP guidelines for an American Brown, with a gravity of 1.053 and bittered at 33 IBUs. But it definitely has a strong English slant to it. I used Victory, Munich (I used a little Munich/Vienna in everything these days), Chocolate, and Crystal 80L malts. I bittered with Northern Brewer hops (a common hop for American versions, including Brooklyn’s), and used Fuggles for flavor and aroma (as Samuel Smith’s version has). At flameout I added some cascade hops (again Brooklyn uses them late). Finally I fermented with the Wyeast 1098 Whitbread strain, which accentuates the malt flavors and produces slight esters.
I brewed this nearly 3 weeks ago.
A few days ago I racked it to the bright tank and took a sample to taste. Very nice! Even flat and warm this beer tasted great. The cascades weren’t noticeable, but the fuggles certainly were. The malt flavor was excellent. I’d definitely say this tasted more English than American, which is fine with me. I can’t really say what I’d change until I try this chilled and carbonated, but I can already tell that I’m going to enjoy this beer.
I’ll post an update in a few days when she’s on tap.