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Brown Ale – All about This Malty Caramel Flavored Beer

Nov 2023 | Last modified: November 13, 2023 | 7 min read | By Rick Weninger

Want to try a classic beer with a long history? Brown Ale might be just what you’re looking for.

A glass of brown ale with foam on top.

This beer has been around for centuries and has a lot of different flavors, like nutty, sweet, smoky, and strong. It’s a really interesting drink that a lot of people love.

In this article, let’s learn more about Brown Ale together and find out why so many people still enjoy it today.

What Is a Brown Ale?

Brown ale is a type of beer that is characterized by its malty and caramel-like flavors, with a moderate level of hop bitterness. It originated in England and has since evolved into regional and international variations.

The color of brown ale typically ranges from amber to dark brown, and the taste can vary from sweet and nutty to roasted and chocolatey, depending on the specific sub-style.

It is a balanced and easy-to-drink beer that many beer enthusiasts enjoy.

What Are the Types of Brown Ale?

There are two main types of Brown Ales:

  • English Brown Ale
  • American Brown Ale

Both types of Brown Ale are delicious in their own way, so it’s worth trying both to see which one you prefer. Let’s get to know more about them below.

English Style Brown Ales

English Style Brown Ales often have an amber richness or a nut brown ale color. This style dates back to an era that featured roasted malt front and center, so expect a more prominent aroma of dark malt.

Hints of nut or chocolate flavors linger in the background. The medium to low hop level is present but not prominent.

They will have a head that is bone white, varying to a light Khaki color. It’s medium-bodied and rich in aroma, although fruity esters remain low.

American Style Brown Ales

In contrast to English-style Brown Ales, American Brown Ale has a wider range of diversity and flavor influences. The use of American hops is the main thing setting these two types apart, in particular when brewed with Cascade hops.

Color ranges from a light tan to almost black. Although still medium-bodied, this ale often has a deeper, richer depth of character than its English cousin.

Coffee, caramel notes, and chocolate-like characters feature, while American hops tend to increase hop bitterness. Coffee is such a great partner to this beer that it is commonly added right into the brew, as with Cigar City Brewery’s Cubano-Style Espresso Beer.

What Makes Up a Brown Ale?

Appearance: Brown Ale is deep copper to very dark brown in color. Clarity is clear, with medium carbonation.

Flavors and Aroma: Hop intensity is low to medium, with a low to medium bitterness level. You will find malt characteristics that highlight chocolate, caramel-like notes, and toast.

For esters, expect subdued fruity flavors. Evident low to medium-roasted malt flavors are common.

Typical Ingredients: In the UK, hop types are Fuggles, Target, and Northdown or Challenger.

In the US, Willamette, Cascade, or Mt. Hood hops are common. The malt types remain more consistent between the USA and the UK, with Pale, Crystal, Chocolate, and Victory being the most prominent.

Ale yeast is recommended. Certain hop combinations in American Brown Ale can produce a high hop bitterness.

American and English Brown Ales by the Numbers:

  • Color range: 18 – 35 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.045 – 1.160 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.010 – 1.016 FG
  • ABV Range: 4.3 – 6.3%

What Are the Best Brown Ales?

You will want to sample the full range of Brown Ales to fully appreciate this wonderfully robust beer. From British styles of Brown Ale with a medium intensity all the way up to the aroma-intensive hop-punching American favorites, here are some of the experts’ recommendations.

Newcastle Brown Ale, UK, ABV: 4.7%

Hailing from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, this iconic beer is one of the oldest Brown Ales and the classic nut Brown Ale. Experts call it a good beer to test the waters of the Brown Ales.

Its flavor points are all on the subdued side, with a light toffee or caramel note finish that places its drinkability level into the “more please” category.

Brooklyn Brown Ale, Brooklyn, USA, ABV: 5.6%

American-style Brown Ales tend to feature a deep roasted malt complexity, clearly evident in this dark amber-colored beer. Combining the traditional English styles together with an American Brown Ale influence creates robust hoppiness.

The influence of American hop is apparent, trying unsuccessfully to hide the chocolate-like palate. Working your way up the scale of intensity, this brew is listed as a good introduction to the more complex possibilities that a Brown Ale can offer.

Cigar City Maduro Brown Ale, Florida USA, ABV: 5.5%

2019 International Beer Cup Gold Medal winner. Cigar City Brewery has created a well-rounded English-style Brown Ale. It is a medium-intensity beer with a low-hop bitterness.

The flavor profile is listed as almond, chocolate, and brown sugar, with a finish that leaves you craving coffee and macaroons. And, well, perhaps a cigar.

Founders Sumatra Mountain Brown, Minnesota USA, ABV: 9%

A knock-your-socks-off combination of Sumatra coffee flavors, chocolate notes, and caramel-like hints. The aromatic Munich malts deliver the punched-up hop level in this beer.

The richness of flavor and aroma means that more medium-hop flavor is transferred, harkening back to its English Brown Ale heritage.

In the Brown Ale category, it is evident that low-alcohol beers reign. Not so with Founders Brewery, however. Packing such a punch in the ABV department and tasting this good, perhaps this one should come with a “sip-alert” cautionary label.

Frequently Asked Questions About Brown Ales

If you’re new to the world of brown ales, you may have some questions about this versatile beer. We’ll explore some frequently asked questions about brown ales below.

Is There a Difference Between an Ale and a Brown Ale?

While Ales are typically sweet, lighter-colored beers, the Brown Ales boast a brown to near-black color. Brown Ales are less bitter than a stout or a Porter but darker and more robust than a typical ale.

Does American Brown Ale Have a Medium Hop Flavor Profile?

Yes. In fact, you can find nearly any type of Brown Ale in the wide diversity offered. Typically, hop bitterness levels do not come close to those of the Pale Ales, but you will still find a medium range of hoppiness. Caramel or chocolate notes also balance out the hop levels nicely.

Is Guinness Considered a Brown Ale?

They might share a similarity, but Guinness is not a Brown Ale. Guinness is neither black nor brown. This trickster is actually a stout, and if you look closely (maybe squint a little), you will see “red” is the prominent hue.

The rich, creamy white head that sits atop this illustrious beer is one of its most famous characteristics. With Brown Ale, a malty, creamy-brown head is more typical. Chocolate-like characters still exist with Guinness, but they are contained in the background.

Takeaways

From its beginnings on square-rigged sailing ships, Brown Ale has come a long way. Although it’s often characterized as a medium-bodied, nutty, or malty beer, the truth is that the Brown Ale family tree includes a wide range of styles.

Some Brown Ales are sweet and toasty, with chocolate or caramel notes and a hint of coffee. Others are boldly bitter, with a hoppy flavor that’s not for the faint of heart.

No matter which type of Brown Ale you prefer, there’s sure to be one that’s perfect for any occasion. So why not try a few and see which one you like best?

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