Brooklyn Brown Ale, Ithaca Nut Brown Ale, Tröegs Nut Brown Ale
Brown Ale is a difficult style. It is really a bunch of styles from England, Belgium, Scotland and the USA. When you think of it...pretty much all beer is brown. And, really, so it ever was until someone figured out how to dry pale malt, the base of all modern beers. In their 1998 book Brown Ale, authors Ray Daniels and Jim Parker in the Classic Beer Styles Series (I am not making this up), note that it was not until about 1577 (keeping in mind civilization was created to make beer making 1577 a blip ago) that someone discovered that putting a little straw fire under the drying room kept it very light in colour. However, as this was both labour intensive and inefficient, cottage made pale malt was the play thing of the rich only. For the rest of us, until the India Pale Ale break through over porter in the first half of the 1800, beer was brown. Then it died away a bit except for patches of "mild" in the boonies and Wolverhampton until rediscovered in the later 1900s.
These three styles represent the US brown ale version of that revival, the hoppier cousin to northern English browns like the quaffable Newkie Brun or the lush, malty London brown ale like Mann's. In addition to a moderate hop level comparable to a regular pale ale, American browns, like Pete's Wicked Ale reviewed here last May, tend also to try to get some chocolate malt out front and have a little less carbonation. There should be a bit of darker crystal malt in there for my tastes as well. Here are my notes and links on these three:
- Tröeg Rugged Trail Nut Brown Ale: This beer from the capital of Pennsylvania has the hop and the lush chocolate as well as a bit of a bitter edge in the middle that would really set it apart from, say, a Lancaster Milk Stout. It is not creamy, not big and not really complex. But its lush with a bite...no more of an edge. Hmm. Let's see what some others have said. Tröegs itself says:
Tröegs Rugged Trail Ale is a unique rendition of a classic English Brown. It has a deep bronze color, rocky head, and prominent Fuggle hop aroma. Toasted amber and Chocolate malts impart a "Nutty" richness and creamy velvet texture.Others have written about it here including this great line: "not the most exciting style, but this one is nicely rounded, smooth and somewhat warming". The trouble with the nut brown claim with this brew is that the nuttiness is right there by the hop edge and in this one I think it is a tad overshadowed by it. But just a little though "velvet" is pushing it a bit. What I am looking for in a brown ale is not far off this brew but, still, not quite this one. Back off the Fuggles and add 1% dark crystal malt and I think I might be with it.
- Ithaca Nut Brown Ale: Well that was weird. The first taste in the mouth is lime. Not impossible given the combination of fruity yeast and the particular acid of the hops. Probably too cold out of the fridge. So I will google up some facts and figures. Ithaca itself says:
The rich mahogany hue of the Nut Brown is the first thing you will notice about this complex, malty brew. A delicate blend of chocolate malt, caramel malt, and four other malts brings to this beer a chocolatey sweetness, and hints of coffee. The malt character is subtly balanced with Northdown and Fuggles hops....and someone here writes:
Grassy, nutty and malty aromas with some hints of chocolate-coated hazelnut and brown sugar. Initially sweet, then turning oddly astringent in its malt, maybe it's hops, though not completely detectable. Nuttiness pretty non-existent in its taste. Leafy hoppiness showing up more as it warms. Pretty good, but not the best example of its style.Sure the chocolate is there and the other stuff but the edge of hop is...edgy. This is getting to be a theme. Sometimes brewers get a signiture style through sticking to one sort of water and one sort of yeast and having one sense of hop level. I love both the Ithaca and Tröegs pale ales but the browns have something too much of the hops of the pales than my palate likes. Bad brewers just add caramel to the pale ales. That is not the case here but look at the other reviews here - lots of disagreement as to the taste...kind of like the Ithaca Flower Power India pale ale. Complexity as a house style. Lew Bryson in his 2003 book New York Breweries says that this brew accounts for 45% of Ithaca's sales so it is a style many enjoy.
- Brookyn Brown Ale: Now this is the business. I think of flavours in three dimensions and while the Tröegs had the edge up the middle, here it is on the side with the chocolate laying down the middle. A brown ale should also be softer, using less acidic water than pale ales. This beer has that tool. Even though it is not on the label, I'd call it nutty - a little hazelnut to go with the chocolate. A little mint in the hops. Brooklyn itself says:
Brooklyn Brown Ale, made exclusively with American ingredients, won Bronze medals at the Great American Beer Festival in the Strong Ale Category in 1991 and in the American Brown Ale Category in 1992. Brooklyn Brown uses pale, crystal, chocolate, and black malts to attain a complex creamy texture. It is more heavily hopped than its British forbears. British beer guru Michael Jackson calls Brooklyn Brown Ale "a complex brew that is closer to Newcastle than London, but bigger than either." He rates it *** in the Simon & Schuster Pocket Guide to Beer.I think Jackson may have a slight point on the innisglass mouthfeel of Newcastle but only slight. Look at these reviews - the word balance appears a lot. Balance tends to translate into it tastes good. It is a little sweeter than either the Ithaca and Tröegs but they are fairly dry and there are still plenty of hops to dry out the aftertaste. My favorite of the three.