I like to think of brown ales as the workhorses of the craft beer world. Born in England centuries ago, the style played an important part in the growth of home brewing (and craft breweries) in the United States. Brown ales tend to be mild and easy-drinking, a contrast to rich stouts and bombastic IPAs. Here’s six of my favorites, ranging from classic English ales to more modern takes.
Brewed with well water; best barley malt, yeast and aromatic hops; fermented in ‘stone Yorkshire squares’ to create a relatively dry ale with rich nutty colour and palate of beech nuts, almonds and walnuts.
Brewed with the same well water as the original Samuel Smith beers were in 1758, the Nut Brown Ale is the classic British brown ale. The brew pours a mahogany brown, and a heady, nutty aroma is followed dutifully by a flavor akin to roasted nuts. A long hazelnut finish rounds out the world’s best traditional brown ale.
Old Brown Dog has been cited as a classic example of the “American Brown Ale” style of beer. Compared to a typical English Brown Ale, Old Brown Dog is fuller-bodied and more strongly hopped.
While Samuel Smith brews the platonic ideal of a British brown, Smuttynose has the American version covered. On this side of the pond the presence of some floral hops is more pronounced, though the style remains a stage for a parade of malt flavors. Toffee and brown sugar burst to the fore, and the nearly 7% ABV is well-hidden.
Delicious. Full-bodied. Complex. Sure, you can say all those things. Wouldn’t it be a lot more fun to take a sip of this handcrafted brown ale and come up with your own superlatives? This is the brown ale that beat Newcastle, Sam Adams and more, at the World Beer Championships in Chicago.
Thunder Hole is one of a number of Bar Harbor brews to medal at the World Beer Championships, with good reason. The ruby-hued beer is a lesson in balance; herbaceous hops, roasty malt and a candy sweetness make it a pleasure to sip. Puerile jokes about a beer called “Thunder Hole Brown” aside, it’s an excellent brew.
Coffee Bender refreshes like an iced-coffee, is aromatic as a bag of whole beans as satisfies like your favorite beer. The Surly brew team has developed a cold extraction process that results in intense coffee aromatics and flavor bringing together two of our favorite beverages.
A caffeinated, coffee-nated version of Surly’s Bender brown ale. Though citrus hops and vanilla notes shine through, Coffee Bender really does taste more like coffee than anything else. Wicked good coffee, too - dark roast, not a lot of acidity, and a clean finish. Don’t drink this one if you’re not into perk.
An English-style brown ale. This beer has a biscuit-like smoothness with a rich, malt body and medium hop bitterness.
Available in stores by the 24oz can, the serving size for Moat’s Bone Shaker is formidable. Thankfully the beer itself is light on the palate, and you won’t feel weighed down after a pint and a half. The Bone Shaker leads with cocoa and caramel, has a bit of raisin towards the tail, and finishes with a white wine dryness.
An unfiltered, unfettered, unprecedented brown ale aged in handmade wooden brewing vessels. The caramel and vanilla complexity unique to this beer comes from the exotic Paraguayan Palo Santo wood from which these tanks were crafted.
Palo Santo technically fits this list as a brown ale, though it’s been sufficiently Dogfish-ified. The ale is brewed with sugar cane and aged in huge tanks built from Paraguayan Palo Santo wood, a change that substitutes resin and spice flavors for the vanilla and toast of traditional oak barrels. With a dark color nearing that of a porter and an exceptionally full body, the potent Palo Santo Marron is a close cousin to port wine.