Brown ale is a wonderful drink - deliciously malty, good year-round, and with wide appeal. In the days before pale malt was invented, brown was about as light as you could expect the color of your beer to get. These days brown ale occupies the ground between pale and porter, allowing it to be refreshing or warming, hoppy or rich, dry or sweet. Though united by their appearance, brown ales have some significant variations in flavor, depending on where they are brewed.
Mild Brown Ale
Mild is a low-alcohol brown ale with a long history in Britain. Mild might be compared to the Ordinary Bitter in that it is a session beer with some character. It is commonly made for early consumption and served at low carbonation levels in the Real Ale fashion. Milds exhibit toasty, slightly chocolatey malt flavors, with some breadiness and occasionally slightly fruity notes from the yeast. A style rarely seen in the US, but excellent for at-home consumption.
Brown Ale’s heritage can be traced back to the murky and ancient days of brewing in Britain, when few beers would have been light colored. The modern English Brown Ale owes a lot to a revival of the style started by the Newcastle Brewery in the early 20th century. Newcastle’s classic beer is known as a Northern English Brown Ale, which is a crisper, more dry brown ale. The Southern English Brown Ale is often sweeter, with less hop bitterness, and more focus on dark crystal malts. Both benefit from British yeast strains, which can provide fruity or minerally complexity.
American Brown Ales often take the classic American brewing approach - add in more of everything! But they have a very popular style and balance of their own. The American Brown is usually higher in alcohol and can focus on a variety of malty characteristics, from toasty to caramelly to roasty. The hop level varies quite a bit, some stay true to the British styles by keeping hop aroma and flavor minimal, others take the hops to almost IPA-like levels. Either way, balance and drinkability is key.
BONUS: Honey Brown Ale