Brown Ales

Joining Us...

The Beer For Today

Mike McDole

Mike was a long time homebrew phenom.

  • One of the co-hosts on The Brewing Network
  • Winner of the Sam Adams Longshot Competition

  • Won the Mayfaire twice (2005, 2006)

  • Janet's Brown Ale has been brewed professionally multiple times.

Some "History"

Brown Ale through the ages


  • The First Law of Beer History - It's Not
  • The Second Law of Beer History - Styles are a modern thing

History in a Color

  • Beer was largely organized by "city" and color
  • White, Red (Rood), Brown (Brune)
    • Black beers needed black malt first
  • In other words - many different types of beer have fallen under the moniker of "Brown Ale" or "Brown Beer" over the ages.

What That Means For Us

  • In other words - many different types of beer have fallen under the moniker of "Brown Ale" or "Brown Beer" over the ages.
  • Even in singular brewing traditions the term has been applied to disapparate styles of beer.
    • In other words, just because a beer has the word "brown" in the style doesn't mean it's related

Today's Focus

  • Brown Ales as seen in modern British/Commonwealth practice
  • The American Extension to that Tradition

The Waxing and Waning Style

  • Newcastle Brown/Sam Smith Nut Brown attracted a lot of people in the earlier days of craft beer to the idea of beers that had robust flavors.
  • Every brewpub and brewery had a brown ale on tap
    • Dogfish Head Indian Brown 
    • Moose Drool
    • Rogue Hazelnut Brown
    • Pete's Wicked Ale
  • Hard to find them now
    • What's your favorite modern iteration

The Nature of British/American Browns

  • Malt forward focus, but not usually "gloppy" and thick
  • Toffee, nutty, aromas and flavors
  • No roast character - a brown is not a porter
    • yes, we know there's a "brown porter" style, but these aren't them
  • Fruity esters are common
  • Hop levels differ wildly with the usual split on hopping philosophy between UK and US.

A Defense

  • In this day and age of all hops & pils malt, Brown ales seem almost old-fashioned and fuddy duddy
  • Where Hazy IPAs attempt to seduce you with fruity flavors and "juiciness", a brown ale is a warm hug of a beer.
  • They play well with lots of different flavors
    • e.g. Rogue's Hazelnut Brown
  • And they do pretty well as a hop neutralizer, so maybe a refresher course is called for before you drink your next Citra/Galaxy/Mosaic IPA... or was that Mosaic/Citra/Galaxy this time?

The English Styles


* - mostly BJCP designated

Before We Dig In

  • These are general categories of beers
  • Many regional differences over different periods of time as the UK Brewing Industry had a number of different practices and needs
    • Wartime and taxes, y'all
    • Go read Ron Pattinson's blog. He went on a tear about regional Brown Ales back in the Spring.

London Brown

A very low alcohol, fairly sweet brown ale.

Low OG (1.032), high FG (1.014). 2.5-3.0% ABV


Very rare

Dark Mild

One of the two staple styles of the UK for the first half of the 20th century.

Since the 60's, a slow decline

  • The Term shift
  • Low gravities abound with them falling over time.
  • OG <1.038, 3.0-3.8% ABV, 10-20 IBUs
  • What about Pale Mild?

British Brown

A catch-all category that encompasses a number of different British beers.

  • bigger than the milds but continues the trend of toffee and caramel
  • It's all Double Browns in our minds
  • OG: 1.040-1.052, 4.2-5.4% ABV, 20-30 IBUs, 12-22 SRM

The American Styles



* - mostly BJCP designated

American Brown

The only BJCP recognized for the US. (Texas and Eugene?)

  • Starter beer for many older aficionados
  • Serves as a great introduction beer
  • 1.045 – 1.060 OG, 4.3-6.2% ABV, 20-30 IBUs*, 4.3-6.2% ABV
  • Malty, chewy, toasty with American hops. (The classics)

Brown IPA

A fine line between IPA/Black IPA/Brown Ale

  • Other terms include Texas Brown Ale
  • Malt
    • lower colored crystal (under 10% of grist)
    • Carafa to color
    • amp up the hops, but still in the 50's-60's

Imperial American Brown

As with all things American craft, this is less a style and more of a philosophy.

  • Go big!
  • Aim for 7%+ ABV
  • The malt should still sing!
  • Keep the IBUs in line, you're not trying to make a Double Brown IPA...
    • I think

Let's Taste A Beer

Toast to Tasty!

Russian River Janet's Brown

  • This is the 9th iteration of Janet's Brown brewed by Russian River
  • Changes from Tasty's version
    • Uses Simpson Pale Malt instead of 2-Row
    • Uses Brewer's Gold instead of Northern Brewer
      • After our hop talk back in the summer - Brewer's Gold might be the comeback hop


Don't be Shy....

Ingredient Thoughts

Malt/Mash Front

  • You're trying to build layers of malt flavor
  • Use a solid pale malt as your foundation
  • This is your time to bust out the crystal malts
    • I still prefer lower color malts for their subtleness
  • A touch of roast to give you more color. (more than a red)
  • Traditional British versions would include:
    • Invert syrups
    • Brown sugar
    • Flaked Maize
  • Single infusion mash, all day

Water Front

  • I prefer a more Chloride forward water for a brown ale
  • Don't be afraid of the minerality. 
    • British brewers tend to push much higher levels of minerals than American brewers. 
    • Can lend a particular dry astringency to British beers
  • Looking at Bru'n Water
    • Brown Balanced
      • Ca:50 Mg:10 Na:27 Sulfate:70 Chloride:55
    • London
      • Ca:42 Mg:6 Na:15 Sulfate:40 Chloride:38 
    • Mild Ale -
      • Ca:50 Mg:0 Na:20 Sulfate:40 Chloride:65

Hops Front

  • Don't get too loose with the hops. Remember the malt is still the nominal star of the show!
  • Traditional hop schemes abound - use a firm bittering addition and layer in the hops
  • Varieties? Sky's the limit, though watch for clashing hop phenols into your darker malt characters

Yeast Front

  • Do you want "clean" - use an American yeast like 1056/001 or 1272. (Denny has a preference as well)
  • For fruitier styles, I prefer either the Wyeast Thames Valley or White Labs Essex Ale.
  • Try open fermentation, particularly with the British strains

Additional Flavors

  • So many flavors play well with a brown ale since the malt provides a sturdy base.
  • Things we've seen
    • Fruit - so much fruit 
    • Nuts - hazelnut
    • Chiles
    • Herbs/Spices
    • Vanilla

Let's Tackle Some Recipes


For 5.5g, 1.037 OG, 13 IBUs, 16 SRM, 3.5% ABV, 60 minute boil


6.75 lb. Maris Otter
0.5 lb. Flaked oats
0.25 lb. Crystal 150L
2.0 oz Carafa II Dehusked
2.0 oz Roasted Barley

Single Infusion 152°F for 60 minutes

0.25 oz Target 10.6%AA 60 minutes
0.12 oz Challenger 6.5% AA 30 minutes

Wyeast 1275 Thames Valley, White Labs Essex Ale, WLP001 Cal Ale, Wyeast 1056, Wyeast 1318 London Ale

Janet's Brown Ale

For 6g, 1.074 OG, 7.3% ABV, 60 minute boil


13.75 lb. pale malt
1.5 lb dextrin malt
1.25 lb Crystal 40L

1.0 lb wheat malt
0.5 lb chocolate malt (350L)
0.5 lb corn sugar

Single Infusion 154°F for 30 minutes. Mash out 170°F


1.5 oz Northern Brewer 5.1%AA Mash
1.5 oz Northern Brewer 5.1%AA 60 min
1.0 oz Northern Brewer 5.1%AA 15 min
1.5 oz Cascade 5.6%AA 10 min
2.0 oz Cascade 5.6%AA 0 min
2.0 oz Centennial 10.5%AA Dry Hop

WLP001 Cal Ale

Janet's Brown Ale (RR)

55.34% 2 Row Malt (rahr)

15.53% Best Pale Malt (simpson)

8.74% Carapils (briess)

6.80% C-40 (gwm)

7.48% Wheat Malt (gwm)

3.20% Chocolate Malt (simpson)

2.91% Dextrose Sugar


Noti Brown

For 8g, 1.064 OG, 50 IBUs, 23 SRM, 6.5% ABV, 90 minute boil


14.4 lb. 2-Row
2.0 lb. C55L
2.4 lb. Munich
0.8 lb Chocolate Malt

Single Infusion 152°F for 60 minutes


1.4oz Willamette 4.8% 90 min
 0.8oz Willamette 4.8% 45 min
 0.4oz Galena 14.5% 45 min
 1.2oz Willamette 4.8% 30 min
 1.2oz Willamette 4.8% 15 min
 0.4oz Chinook 13.0% 0 min

Wyeast 1450 Denny's Favorite, Wyeast 1056