Monthly Archives: November 2012

Dogfish Indian Brown Ale

Beer: Indian Brown Ale
Brewery: Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Style: Brown Ale
ABV: 7.2%

Serving Style: Bottle
Drinking Establishment: Chez Wood
Primary Consumer: Kerensa

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OVERALL RATING:

Sight: Dark darky dark brown body with an inch of dense tan head.

Smell: This is one deep brew: overpowering coffee, dark chocolate, and roasted malts. NOW TIME TO DRINK.

Flavor: Impossibly delicious dark chocolate and espresso flavors. There’s also a rich, decadent caramel that swirls in the middle. A bite from the hops comes through at the end.

Feel: Creamy, thin body with moderate carbonation.

Concluding Remark: The Indian Brown Ale is one of Dogfish Head’s longest continually produced beers–13 years and counting. After enjoying a pint of it, this comes as no surprise. This is one of those beers that you pick up when just want something good. It’s sweet, dark, bright, hoppy…and quite alcoholic (7.2%). What more could one want in a beer?

I was a little bit hazy on what constitutes an “Indian Brown Ale.” While I made the assumption that an Indian Brown Ale is a Brown Ale-IPA hybrid, the DFH website clarifies that it in fact a Scotch Ale-Brown Ale-IPA amalgam. Apparently, the Indian Brown Ale has to looks of a Brown Ale, the sweetness of a Scotch Ale, and the bitterness of an India Pale Ale. The result is the perfect offspring–eugenics at its best.

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Categories: Brown Ale | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Big Muddy Monster

Beer: Big Muddy Monster
Brewery: Big Muddy Brewery
Style: Brown Ale
ABV: 6.5%

Serving Style: Bottle
Drinking Establishment: Chez Wood
Primary Consumer: Kerensa

——–

OVERALL RATING:

Sight: Dark, muddy waters here. Tiny head that recedes quickly.

Smell: Is this a Brown Ale? Initial waft is pine, mint, grapefruit, and rubbing alcohol if you sniff at it long enough.

Flavor: The name “Monster” is definitely apropos.  It tastes like all the flavors of a Brown Ale and all the flavors of an IPA. Isn’t there that term…what is it…”flavor country”? Well, I’m going to use that term and make a billboard that says, “Welcome to flavor country, population MONSTER.” But anyways. Flavors. Honestly, I’m having a difficult time discerning individual tastes in this big muddy mess. It tastes like being dropkicked by a ton of roasted malts and then punched in the mouth by a variety of hops. Clearly, those are this Monster’s fight tactics.

Feel: Thinnish body with high carbonation. And it just feels DENSE.

Concluding Remark: This is my first time trying anything from Big Muddy Brewing outta Murphysboro, Illinois, and what a way to start. This Monster Brown Ale is an intense Brown Ale-IPA hybrid, as stated in the “flavor” section of this programming. Perhaps it isn’t the most delicious beer of all time, but powerful as hell. Just as a Monster should be. While the flavors are a little MUDDIED (groan, pun), you’ll keep trying to figure out what you are drinking until it’s gone and all you’re left with is a faint memory of what once was.

Kind of like a yeti spotting.

So, on that note. Naturally, I was wondering if the Big Muddy Monster was some legendary Illinois cryptoid, because that’s just who I am. And guess what?!?! IT IS! Could this beer get any better?

Apparently, some hairy brown globby monster was spotted causing a ruckus in Murphysboro in 1973. In response to what this monster was, an eyewitness said, “I don’t know, but I saw this substance and smelled the smell.” Cryptozoologists definitively agreed that this was big foot. (OMG IT REALLY DOES EXIST.) This is an artist’s rendering:

Artist’s Rendering

What I’m saying is that this is one scary beer for beer style classicists. But for those adventurous types, go put on your drinking and cryptoid-hunting gear, and fetch yourself a Big Muddy Monster!

Categories: Brown Ale | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale

Beer: Nut Brown Ale
Brewery: Samuel Smith Old Brewery
Style: Brown Ale
ABV: 5.0%

Serving Style: Bottle
Drinking Establishment: Chez Wood
Primary Consumer: Kerensa

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OVERALL RATING:

Sight: Clear, dark copper body with a dense beige head.

Smell: Toasted malts, caramel, and walnuts with a slightly metallic tang.

Flavor: While the smell was pretty straightforward, the complexity of this beer is astounding. It’s both bitter and sweet, with prominent flavors of pumpernickel bread, toffee, walnuts, hazelnut, and bitter hops.

Feel: Thin body with high carbonation. There’s a little heat from the alcohol.

Concluding Remark: As we venture into our first encounter with a proper English Brown Ale (the Northern variety, to be specific), all I can say is that I am pleasantly surprised. As you may recall from our little history on the Brown Ale, Northern Ales are characteristically dry and malty. You may also remember that many Northern Brown Ales are also referred to as “Nut Brown Ales”–a name given for color of the beer, not for a related olfactory or gustatory sensation. Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale is the classic Northern Brown Ale. It oozes malty goodness, but manages not to become dull or cloyingly sweet, as many exceedingly malty beers tend to be. You could easily knock many, many of these back in one evening. Way to go, Sam. I do believe that this Nut Brown has made me a Brown Ale convert.

While we don’t give out many 5 pint ratings, this is truly the best of the style. Thus, 5.

Categories: Brown Ale | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Voodoo Wynona’s Big Brown Ale

Beer: Wynona’s Big Brown Ale
Brewery: Voodoo Brewery
Style: Brown Ale
ABV: 7.3%

Serving Style: Bottle
Drinking Establishment: Chez Wood
Primary Consumer: Kerensa

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OVERALL RATING:

Sight: This is the most unremarkable looking beer: murky brown body, no head.

Smell: Strong dark chocolate, dirt, and soy sauce aromas. There’s something in here that smells like a metal toy I used to own.

Flavor: It tastes exactly like it smells, but it’s not downright awful, as the combination of chocolate, dirt, soy, and wet metal should taste under any other circumstance. After you get over the likeness to the aroma, the bitterness of this Brown Ale comes as a shock. As I keep drinking, it actually tastes exactly like Dewars. Dewars and water, to be specific. In normal beer terms, it also tastes like malts. Loads and loads of roasted malts. Caramel, coffee, blah blah blah.

Feel: Thin body with moderate carbonation.

Concluding Remark: Well, Voodoo Brewery, your Wynona is one bewildering lady. I don’t really enjoy the flavors put forth in this beer, but I don’t really not enjoy drinking it. For one, it diverges from the other, sweeter Brown Ales of the month. In fact, there is very little sweetness in this (except for the sweetness associated with the Scotch flavor). Okay, well, actually there are moments of sweetness, but the first and last flavors are dry dirt and Dewars. WHY DOES THIS TASTE LIKE DEWARS? Oh Voodoo Brewery and your wacky magic. Though, by wacky magic I mean maris otter malts and a ton of Simcoe, Amarillo, and Northern Brewer hops. If I had to sub-classify this beer, I would say it is a Northern Brown Ale with an American twist (the twist being a million hops).

Also, in case you didn’t once own the Primus album Tales from the Punchbowl, you probably didn’t get the reference to their song, ‘Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver.’ Perhaps this reference was used because Voodoo used maris OTTER malts? Oh, I don’t even know, too many references. More importantly: beer. This Brown Ale is weird. And alcoholic (7.3%!). And weird. So, do as the label says and get down with the brown…ale.

Categories: Brown Ale | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

New Holland Cabin Fever

Beer: Cabin Fever
Brewery: New Holland Brewing Co.
Style: Brown Ale
ABV: 6.5%

Serving Style: Bottle
Drinking Establishment: Chez Wood
Primary Consumer: Kerensa

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OVERALL RATING:

 

Sight: Dull dark brown body with a zillion bubbles floating on the small head.

Smell: This is one of those beers that makes me pray that it tastes just like it smells. The aromas are charred coffee beans, dark chocolate, and dried fruit. Oddly, there’s a weird note of raw fish. But never mind that.

Flavor: And my prayers have been answered. Like its smell, coffee, smoke, and dark chocolate are the prominent flavors–and there’s just a bit of a salty funk somewhere in the middle.

Feel: Thin body with moderate carbonation.

Concluding Remark: I’m beginning to understand the complexity and amazing-ness of the American Brown Ale. New Holland’s Cabin Fever is a hearty ale that is exceptionally balanced: there’s a battle of the sweet and the bitter in each sip. The funk taste comes from the inclusion of rye–while odd for the style, it adds a little je ne sais quoi to what would have been a good Brown Ale. Instead, this is a freaking good Brown Ale. Do yourself a favor and pick up a six pack of this Brown. You’ll be able to hibernate through the winter without enduring cabin fever.

Categories: Brown Ale | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Avery Ellie’s Brown Ale

Beer: Ellie’s Brown Ale
Brewery: Avery Brewing Co.
Style: Brown Ale
ABV: 5.5%

Serving Style: Bottle
Drinking Establishment: Chez Wood
Primary Consumer: Kerensa

——–

OVERALL RATING:


Sight: Near black, opaque body with a ruby tinge. It looks exactly like cola. One inch tan head settles to a thin layer of bubbles and leaves a thick lacing.

Smell: Sweet roasted malts dominate all. Other food-like aromas include sweet condensed milk, mocha, and burnt marshmallows. So…in other words, this smells like a gooey cake.

Flavor: The sweetness carries over to the flavor. It tastes like a carbonated mocha espresso milkshake. With a side of gooey chocolate walnut cake.

Feel: Thin-medium body with moderate carbonation.

Concluding Remark: This is no Northern Brown Ale: Avery’s Ellie’s Brown Ale is darker, sweeter, and more flavorful than its drier–dare I say boring–Northern brother. Other than in name, there is little resemblance between Ellie and our other favorite canine, Smuttynose’s Old Brown Dog. Unlike Old Brown Dog, this dog doesn’t bite. Ellie is balanced and delivers an impossibly sweet and delicious beer that doesn’t cross into “ick, this tastes like drinking a pint of sugar” territory. Although it’s available year-round (score!), it’s a perfect beer for winter.

 

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Brooklyn Brown Ale

Beer: Brown Ale
Brewery: Brooklyn Brewery
Style: Brown Ale
ABV: 5.6%

Serving Style: Bottle
Drinking Establishment: Chez Wood
Primary Consumer: Kerensa

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OVERALL RATING:


Sight: Clear, dark mahagony body with no head.

Smell: Roasted malts and more roasted malts. There are faint chocolate and pumpernickel bread aromas amid the maltiness.

Flavor: Predominantly bitter, burnt malts laced with a lactose sweetness. Soy sauce and milk chocolate are subtle flavors. It’s not as inherently gross as it would seem.

Feel: Quite thin with tingly carbonation. Despite an average alcohol content, there’s a lingering burning in the back of the throat.

Concluding Remark: This here Brown Ale tastes a little like a Porter: the charred, roasted malts are there, with a hint of vanilla and caramel. It’s a little too thin for it’s own good–could be fattened up with a more diverse malt portfolio. Brooklyn’s Brown Ale is drinkable for sure, but I would refer you back to the Smuttynose Old Brown Dog for a more exciting Brown.

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Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale

Beer: Old Brown Dog Ale
Brewery: Smuttynose Brewing Company
Style: Brown Ale
ABV: 6.7%

Serving Style: Bottle
Drinking Establishment: Chez Wood
Primary Consumer: Kerensa

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OVERALL RATING:


Sight: Cloudy dark ruby body with a tiny tan head.

Smell: Welcome to Maltville, population this beer. These malts are of the roasted variety: prominent aromas of toast, grains, and a hint of mocha.

Flavor: The initial flavor is generic bitterness. The bitterness is not from the hops, instead from the charred malts. There’s not a ton of other flavors in this. Maybe a bit of chalky bitter chocolate, but that’s about it.

Feel: Thin with moderate carbonation and a creamy mouthfeel.

Concluding Remark: Well, this is my first official foray into the world of “Brown Ales.” While I’ve been a casual observer since 2006, I hadn’t a clue what I was getting myself into this month. And now I know why. I can’t say that I enjoy Brown Ales. And I’m not going to blame the adorable chocolate lab on Smuttynose’s label because, well, Smuttynose is a damn fine brewery and their dog is even finer. I can think about 35 beers off the top of my head that I would rather be drinking right now. I know, I know, I’m coming out of Pumpkin Ale month; any other style would taste like rotten milk after drinking 20 pumpkin ales. So, I know, I need to judge Old Brown Dog Ale on its merits not by my major miss-age of gourds in my beer.

So, Old Brown Dog Ale. It’s solid. It reminds me of a number of British ales I encountered on a trot over to London this summer (except with carbonation). It’s dry, malty, and delivers a relatively decent flavor. I foolishly did not check the ABV before finishing it, so half way in I unexpectedly started to feel a little warm…not something I usually feel until three or four beers in. Why? Oh, because this Brown Dog delivers 6.7% ABV. So, okay, I have a little more respect for this canine now. I understand why some of my friends buy this on occasion. And okay, as it sits it develops a slightly fruity flavor that makes it just a little bit more interesting. We’ll give it a 4 Pint Glass rating because I have a feeling this might be as good as it gets.

The internet tells me that Old Brown Dog is a quintessential “American Brown Ale,” differing from its English counterparts by its fuller body and robust hops. If that’s the case, I can say I’m not particularly looking forward to doing an Enlglish Brown Ale run next week. But I look forward to being surprised.

Categories: Brown Ale | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Brown Ales: A History More Complex Than Its Nondescript Name

As the leaves turn from the color of a sunset to a dreary murky brown, we try not to think about what we’ve lost, but instead, what beer we can drink next. In honor of the fading, and ultimately falling, leaves that have given their lives to provide us with shelter, we will celebrate by focusing on Brown Ales this month.

Brown has such a bad rep. I mean, whose favorite color was brown…ever? Brown is associated with many unfortunate things, from dirt to well…so who in their right mind would really reach for a six pack of Brown Ale when you could walk away with an IPA or a festive seasonal? The India Pale Ale invokes a sense of adventure and bright, refreshing flavors. The Brown Ale? Oh, who even knows. And that breweries call their Browns “Moose Drool” doesn’t make this situation any better. Well. We are making it our mission this month to change the perception of what a Brown Ale is by drinking as many as possible and showcasing their goodness. Well, we’ll see about the latter at least.

Bring on the Moose Drool!

Moose drool…fresh from Missoula, MT.

Like with our early discussion of the Porter, the term “Brown Ale” has been associated with a number of different beer recipes throughout its history. It encompasses a number of regional British beers, a Belgian ale, and the American Brown Ale. Talk about an international sensation.

Marketing Matters

You might have noticed by now that most beer styles have an origination in Germany, Belgium, or the UK. This month, our story begins in England.

The “Brown Ale” has been around since the 17th century, although you would not recognize it among its contemporary counterparts. The original Brown Ale was simply a British Mild Ale that was brewed with 100% brown malts, rendering the ale a dark brown. This darker ale disappeared in the 18th century, as British brewers quickly made the switch to a new, cheaper malt (pale malt). Can’t blame them. RIP Brown Mild Ale.

A Regional Divide

This might have been the end of the Brown Ale for all eternity if  Mann Brewery didn’t market one of their products as a “Brown Ale” in the 19th century. With help from a marketing campaign advertising it as “the sweetest beer in London,” this beer wooed the London populace with its rich roasted malt and chocolate flavors. By the 1920s, Mann’s Brown Ale was one of the most popular beers in the area. Other British brewers quickly hopped on the Brown Ale bandwagon hoping to make a pretty pence. Perhaps you’ve heard of Newcastle? While Mann Brewery might have revived the Brown Ale (at least in name), Newcastle put the style on the beer map. Newcastle was established by Lt. Colonial James Porter in 1927. Working with a chemist, Lt. Porter developed this Brown Ale during an attempt to emulate Bass ale. Although he considered the initial recipe a failure, as you might note that Newcastle tastes nothing like Bass, it was an instant hit for its sweet malt flavors and high alcohol content. In fact, the story goes that this alcoholic ale was so popular, that the local police asked Porter to reduce the ABV because citizens were wastedly running amok and filling up the prisons for their misdeamonrs. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had felt that way after drinking Newcastle. I guess I’m doing it wrong.

What? I know it’s the wrong country, I’m just illustrating a point.

So this little story about Mann’s Brown Ale and Newcastle turned out to play quite a significant role in the history of the Brown Ale. There are now two types of Brown Ale in Britain: Northern Brown Ale (ala Newcastle) and Southern Brown Ale (ala Mann). The Northern Brown Ale is light in color, light in hops, and light in carbonation. The predominant character of these is a sweet caramel malt. Some Northern Brown Ales are also called ‘nut brown ales’ for their resemblance to, well, the color of nuts. The Southern Brown Ale is a darker, more robust brew. It is characterized by a strong, fruit and malt profile with very little hops. If this was war, you could claim the North champion: Mann Brewery was purchased by Usher Brewery in 1964, which was recently purchased by Wychwood Brewery, who does not produce a Brown Ale. After near extinction, there is, allegedly, a Southern Brown Ale revival emerging in England…while Northern Brown Ales are exported across the globe. Newcastle FTW.

…And Back in America

So that’s the English story. Like many beer histories beginning in 17th century Britain, there was also an American story. Colonies developed their own Brown Ale, adapted from British recipes with ingredients found in the US. Molasses was a key ingredient in early American Brown Ale days.  Later, as Brown Ale production picked up in England at the turn of the century, its production followed suit in the US. Copycats.

“Nut Brown Ales” were advertised in the early 1900s as a winter seasonal brew and a traditional ‘Olde English’ beer. While little is known about the actual style of the beer, its association with England and its fancy beer drinkers was aggressively linked to this “Brown Ale.” This type of marketing persisted into the 1940s.

Pittsburgh Brewing’s Nut Brown Ale
(source: zythophile.wordpress.com)

The “Nut Brown Ale” fell out of fashion after WWII, only to be revived during the early craft beer movement of the 1980s. In true American fashion, these early home brewers developed a unique version of the British Brown Ale. The first American Brown Ale (ABA) was brewed in Texas. As with everything in Texas, this ABA was bigger, stronger, and meaner. It had a high hop content, high malt content, and a matching high ABV. As brewers in California and across the country began brewing their own versions of ABAs, they lost a little bit of their bite and evolved into a more balanced beast.

RIP, Wicked Pete

The most prevalent and successful American Brown Ale was Pete’s Wicked Ale, one of the first mass marketed craft beers. Pete’s Wicked Ale took the Northern Brown Ale recipe and added a helluva lot of hops. American, and all. However, as of this year, Wicked Ale is no longer in production due to the decline of the Brown Ale’s popularity in the US (according to Pete’s owner). I mean, it makes sense. Today, microbrew enthusiasts are searching for the incredibly hoppy, obscure, or bizarre. And while once Americans found the Brown Ale chichi, you know, coming from the classy British Isles and all, now they just find it boring. But! There are still some in production, and we will be the judge of their ability to appease and entertain our self-proclaimed classy palates.

Oh! We had mentioned that Belgium also produces a Brown Ale. It does. There are two types of Brown Ales made in Belgium: the Oud Bruin and the Bruin (or Brune). The Oud Bruin (or Flanders Brown) is a twice fermented Flemish ale that is aged for about a year (hence the name “oud”). These yeasty, funky beers are aged in oak, which give them a brown color (hence “bruin”). The Bruin is a darker, less funky Oud Bruin. Honestly, I wouldn’t have mentioned anything about these Belgian dudes if I hadn’t already purchased a Bruin to review this month. They’ll get their own profile another month.

What to expect

Since we’re really discussing three types of beer here, there will be much variation in each of these categories.

Sight: The color will range from a deep copper to a dark brown. While most Brown Ales are clear, the traditional recipes are unfiltered and will be a little cloudy.

Smell: Whether you are enjoying a Brown Ale in the Highlands or in Dallas, your Brown Ale will smell quite malty and you’re not going to get much hops on the nose. Some other aromas to expect include caramel, nuts, chocolate, and grains.

Flavor: You won’t be getting any bombastic, dynamic flavors from your resident Brown Ale. However, expect a malty and generally balanced beer. Some Brown Ales will have a more roasted, toffee taste (Northern Browns), while others will be sweeter and have a fruit and molasses flavor (Southern Browns). The hops will be largely undetectable, but some American Browns will serve you your daily dose of hops (thanks, America).

Feel: The body will be pretty thin with low carbonation from the British and slightly more from the Americans.

We will be the judge of just how light your dark side is, Newcastle.

Nice, straightforward history, huh? Well as most histories go, things were not this simple at the time. After reading a piece arguing that there is in fact no such thing as an “English Brown Ale” because the term does not convey any type of cohesive style, we feel especially compelled to make our own assessment before agreeing with his well-researched argument. While drinking a Newcastle Brown Ale and a Southern Brown Ale one after the other would likely prove his point, we will go a step further and drink thirty Brown Ales to prove our point: drinking beer is good. And if we can substantiate or disprove his argument along the way, all the better.

Categories: Brown Ale | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Schlafly Pumpkin Ale

Beer: Pumpkin Ale
Brewery: Saint Louis Brewery/Schlafly Tap Room
Style: Pumpkin Ale (Imperial)
ABV: 8.0%

Serving Style: Bottle
Drinking Establishment: Chez Wood
Primary Consumer: Kerensa

——–

OVERALL RATING:


Sight: Clear, bright copper body with a small white head.

Smell: It smells like stepping into a bakery. Specifically, a Cinnabon. And even more specifically, it smells like the gooey cinnamon filling that has made Cinnabon its millions. The resemblance is so strong, Cinnabon could probably sue for smell infringement. There’s just the tiniest hint of pumpkin purée, as well.

Flavor: Of all the pumpkin pie beers I’ve had this month, this is hands down the most pumpkin pie-est of the bunch. This actually tastes more like food than beer. Vanilla and caramel flavors linger, which is only icing on the…pie.

Feel: Thin with high carbonation, and dry, like Champagne.

Concluding Remark: Although it doesn’t label itself as an Imperial Pumpkin, drinking Schlafly’s humble Pumpkin Ale is essentially like consuming shots of pumpkin pie. It’s impossibly delicious with a high ABV, rendering it the perfect holiday beer. Like some of its peers, it’s just a wee sweet. However, I would honestly choose Schlafly’s Pumpkin Ale over actual pumpkin pie. And that’s saying a lot given my decades-long obsession with pumpkin pie. If you find this in stores, make sure to pick it up ASAP. I had to sweet talk a beer clerk at my local liquor store into splitting their hidden stash with me.

Categories: Pumpkin | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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