On more than a few occasions I’ve come across the opinion that brown ales are boring. I personally don’t understand why, as I love a trip down to Brown Town. Sure, they’re not choc-a-block full of hops and they are usually of a fairly average ABV. Browns are not so sour that your whole face disappears into itself. They are dark, but not so-black-even-the-white-bits-are-black. They are just….well…brown. However, a good brown ale is a pleasure to drink. Not designed to smack your in the mouth, they are laced with subtle flavours – biscuit, toffee, coffee, chocolate – all working together. No divas – just a harmonious chorus. Sure, maybe a little easy listening M.O.R., but don’t we all need that sometimes?
I guess if you’ve been scaling the heights of beer-geekery, drinking only the most extreme brews that use ALL OF THE HOPS, or boozy barrel aged imperial whatsits, or beers so smoky they’ll set your smoke alarms off, or spending some quality time with our friend Brett, a basic brown ale may seem boring, yes. You may be suffering from palate fatigue. It’s okay – it happens to the best of us.
Recently, in the name of health and insanity, the husband and I decided to give up beer (and all forms of fermented beverages) for a month. It had been a long, tough winter that was survived only by the process of pickling ourselves and developing a snug layer of blubbery insulation. While this booze-hiatus was a personal quest of sorts, the upside was an unexpected re-setting of the taste buds. Suddenly beers that had long been left by the wayside for being too…normal…were seen (or tasted) in a whole new light. I mention this because one of the beers the husband had not long after jumping off the wagon was the 2brothers Growler American Brown Ale. This beer is fairly regular on tap at our local, but even for a lover of the brown such as myself, I very rarely choose it. There’s just usually something more…enticing on offer. I was surprised when he ordered it…and more surprised when he exclaimed, ‘WOW – they’ve really upped the choc on this!’. I had been contemplating my own IPA and how crazy hoppy it was. But maybe it wasn't? Maybe we were just tasting the beer’s usual character but with fresh buds.
Luckily there are plenty of Aussie brewers out there who aren’t listening to any talk of ‘boring browns’ and are producing some deliciously drinkable ales. As well as the afore mentioned 2brothers, Mornington Peninsula Brewery, Cavalier, Black Heart, Murray’s, Jamieson Brewery, and Brew Boys all produce fantastic brown ales. Also (with impeccable timing) Holgate have just released their seasonal Nut Brown Ale brewed with macadamia nuts in the new 500ml format. Of course, if you are still of the opinion that brown=boring, there are slightly less traditional brown ales out there, such as Prickly’ Moses Tailpipe, a 7.1% ‘Big Ass Brown’, and the 2brothers James Belgian Brown, brewed with lolly bananas. Then there’s Henry Fords Girthsome Fjord from Moon Dog, can beer get more interesting than an 8% Bulgo-American Indian Brown Ale?
|Every colour, as long as it's brown.|
On a food-related note, brown ales are definitely one of the most versatile beers for both cooking and pairing. They lend themselves to both sweet and savoury dishes, and as they are so ‘boring’ and well balanced, they don’t tend to overpower with bitterness or sweetness. They can match well with pretty much any meat – stewed, roasted or barbecued – but are also great with mushroom dishes or mild vegetarian curries and chillis. They can be used to make a tasty rarebit, or accompany your traditional ploughmen’s lunch. You can bake bread or cake with them. Seriously – browns can do it all. As it happens, my last post here was for Brown Ale Banana Bread.
So, I’ve decided to celebrate the staid awesomeness and very non-boringness of brown ales. IPA’s and Stouts have their own days, so I’m declaring October 21st as my own personal Brown Ale Day - a day to eat, drink and think brown. I’ll be cooking some dishes with brown ale, and drinking my way though a fine selection of Australian browns, because we are a wide-brown land…and if I included browns from other countries I may end up hurting myself.
Call it collective consciousness, kismet or serendipity, but not long after I made this declaration and first put these thoughts down on paper, a very similar post appeared on Craftbeer.com. You can check out some far more articulate thoughts on brown ales by Angelo De Ieso (@BREWPUBLIC for those on the twits) in the article, Brown Ales: The Overlooked Spectrum of Beer
If you happen to be one of those who may have pooh-poohed brown ales in the past (sorry, couldn’t resist), I challenge you to have a brown ale or two, and take your own little trip down to Brown Town.