Brown ale has the distinction of being one of only a few styles of beer that is defined by its color instead of ingredients, history, or region from where it was originally brewed. Attempting to describe a style of beer that is named after its color can be a challenge, very much like attempting to describe a white or red wine when there are so many styles within that color category, the same applies to brown ales.
In fact, it is a wide-reaching category that encompasses many different types of beers with varying characteristics depending on what country or region the style originated from.
In this article, we are going to attempt to explain in broad terms what a brown ale is, as well as provide you with some details of its history, what foods it pairs best with, and lastly, we will review some of the more popular types and brands of brown ales on the market…
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The brown ale was originally brewed in England and although still very popular there and in the rest of the United Kingdom it is also now enjoyed by beer lovers the world over.
It is a malt-driven ale that is typically brown to light brown in color and is known for having a full flavor that comes from the lightly roasted malts (grains) used to make it. They can also sometimes be sweet and nutty-tasting with hints of caramel, toffee, or chocolate. They tend to be medium-bodied, less hoppy beers, and lower in hop bitterness than many beers leaning more to the sweeter side.
Since brown ales are considered to be very drinkable beers, they do tend to have a lower alcohol content or ABV than other beers however you can still find some that will contain up to 6% alcohol.
History of Brown Ale
Brown ales are an older style of beer that has been around for a few centuries having first been brewed in England during the 17th century, however, due to its popularity it was not long before the recipe quickly spread throughout the rest of Europe.
It quickly became popular as a result of its milder taste compared to other beers of that time and became popular among farmers, laborers, and others who preferred a darker beer with full-bodied flavor, lower alcohol content, and limited hop bitterness.
Some of the first brands of brown ales included Newcastle Brown Ale and Burton Ale, both of which were extremely popular beers during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Throughout most of its history, brown ale recipes have tended to lean more towards the more malty side, typically having notes of coffee and dark chocolate that provided a nice balance between its light bitter finish and smooth taste.
Today brown ales are now brewed in many countries around the world resulting in beers with varying colors of brown, mouthfeel, head retention, and flavor. They now range in color and flavor from light amber with notes of cocoa, to dark brown with hints of coffee flavors.
There is no question that the traditional English brown ale is still very popular, while other styles such as American brown ales and Belgian Dubbels are also very popular and offer more contemporary flavors.
Like most styles of beers in recent years, brown ales have evolved in a variety of ways with new brands producing complex flavor profiles from lighter IPAs to citrus-infused brown ales designed for those who enjoy hoppier beers, while other brewers have experimented by adding different spices, herbs, and fruits to produce some interesting twists to this traditional ale.
No matter what style of brown ale you choose, they all share a common history that dates back hundreds of years, and regardless of the variation or flavor profile, brown ales should all have the underlying nutty taste it is famous for.
Description of Brown Ale
Brown Ales are distinguishable by their brown hue or amber to dark copper color. Taste wise they are a malt-leaning beer with a flavor that can range anywhere from sweet to dry and feature smooth silhouettes with a medium body and a rich full mouthfeel.
They are known for their malt-derived flavors and aromas like nutty sweetness and dried fruit such as raisins and plums. Brown ales also tend to have less hoppy bitterness than other styles of beer.
Types of Brown Ale
There are many types of brown ales offering a wide variety of flavor and aroma combinations, including but not limited to English Brown Ales, American Brown Ales, Belgian Browns, and even Imperial Browns.
English Brown Ales typically have nutty flavor profiles with very subtle hop bitterness and low to moderate alcohol content. They have a mild malt sweetness with an earthy hop taste and a nutty finish.
American Brown Ales are known for their strong malt sweetness with light notes of chocolate and coffee, and like most American beers they often have more hop presence than their English counterpart.
Belgian Browns focus on complex flavors over high-alcohol content levels and contain fruity esters; some also include spices to give them an even more unique taste profile.
Lastly, an Imperial Brown Ale differs from the rest due to its exceptionally high alcohol content; it will often bring together different characteristics from all of the other types of brown ales mentioned above however with increased alcohol content.
Popular commercial brands of brown ale include:
Newcastle Brown Ale,
Goose Island Nut Brown Ale,
Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale
DogFish Head India Brown Ale
And Cigar City Maduro Oatmeal Brown Ale
Brown Ales are unique in that whether you’re looking for a light summer beer or something to warm up with in winter months there is likely a type of brown ale that will fit the bill for you.
Brown Ale Food Pairings
When it comes to pairing brown ales with food, they go great with a variety of dishes. The best way to enjoy them with food is to pair them with food that will accentuate the malt complexity and bring out the notes of caramel and toast.
Hearty mains such as beef stew or steak, roasted or barbecued meat, and hearty pizzas are all excellent options to pair with brown ales. Additionally, pork and game meat are reported to go great with brown ales as they harmonize with the beer’s strong flavors.
Nutty flavors can also be enjoyed with brown ales; think of dishes like mac and cheese or mushroom risotto that bring out the beer’s smokiness or for those looking for more of an indulgent food option, brown ales also go well with fried foods like french fries and onion rings.
Brown ales can also be enjoyed alongside sweet desserts such as pistachio ice cream or apple tart paired with a brown butter caramel sauce as their spicy sweetness will balance out the robustness of brown ale’s bitterness.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is an American Brown Ale?
An American Brown Ale is a type of beer known for its dark color, robust malt flavor, and moderate hop bitterness. It typically has a deep reddish-brown color and is mildly hopped with American hops such as Cascade, Amarillo, Centennial, or Simcoe. It often has roasted and caramel malt flavors, as well as notes of coffee, chocolate, nuts, and toffee.
American Brown Ales tend to have an ABV of 5–6.5% and an IBU of 20–35. They are well-suited for pairing with foods such as BBQ, roasted meats, and sharp cheddar cheese. They also make excellent session beers due to their moderate alcohol content.
What Are Some Brown Ale Beers?
Some of the most popular commercial brown ales, offering unique flavor profiles with hints of caramel and roasted nuts are Samuel Adams Brown Ale, Newcastle Brown Ale, Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale, and Belhaven Scottish Ale.
Is Brown Ale Like Stout?
Although a brown ale and a stout are two popular styles of beer with some similarities they do have distinctive differences which comes down to their flavor intensity, color, and alcohol content.
Brown ales tend to be lighter in color and alcohol content, and are typically less bitter as well as less mild in flavor than stouts while also having more subtle notes of maltiness,
Stouts, on the other hand, tend to be darker in color and have a higher alcohol content and are brewed with roasted malts and grains, often containing chocolate or coffee flavors. They can range in color from black to deep brown. While both styles of beer have similar flavors, stouts like oatmeal stouts and dry Irish stouts tend to be more robust in flavor than brown ales, and bolder with deep chocolate or coffee flavors.
P.S. If you make your own beer or want to start be sure to pick up our gift to you of Big Robb’s top 5 favorite beer recipes from his brewpub. Details are on the side of the blog or at the bottom if you are on your phone. Cheers!