by Ryan Urban
Brown ale. There may be no more generic name for a beer style. There may also be no style so nuanced.
Southern English Brown, Northern English Brown, American Brown. They are generally malty, with toffee, caramel, nutty, toasty, earthy tones. But hops can play a role too, providing slight or considerable bitterness, fruity or earthy aromas and flavors.
Brown ales fall somewhere between an English mild and a porter–another category of lots of variation.
Brown ales are kind of hard to pin down–at least for my palate. Many I’ve had can simply be described as “meh.” But others really hit the spot.
After reviewing my Untappd history, it seems I’ve good ones–from Ale Asylum, Surly, South Shore, Stevens Point, St. Francis, Pearl Street, New Holland–but I haven’t revisited any of them in 2 years or more. The exception is Bell’s Best Brown, which, honestly, I buy every fall for the packaging alone–owls are my favorite–though the beer is pretty good too.
When I want a malty, easy-drinking beer, lagers come to mind–those great Bocks and Dunkels. I’m a lager man–what can I say?
But I can’t help but think I’m overlooking those top-fermenting browns. This realization came to me recently when I bought Short’s Bellaire Brown.
Shorts began distributing in Wisconsin last year, and this is the first and only beer I’ve tried from the Elk, Michigan brewery. I Ignored Short’s unfamiliar lineup for months until a trusted bottle shop employee recommended Bellaire Brown.
This is my kind of brown. Those heavily-hopped or overly-nutty browns aren’t for me–keep the hazelnut out of my coffee and my beer.
But the Bellaire falls on the subtle side of the style, with nice caramely, toasty tones. The beer also has a wonderful dark brown appearance, perfect tan head and a full body.
However, Short’s says it’s “It’s hardly classifiable as a brown.”
What?! So, I guess I’m still trying to wrap my head around browns. The journey continues. For now, I’ll pour another Bellaire and just enjoy it.
Goes great with a plate of Gouda and crackers.
Rating: Glass — GROWLER — Case — Keg
For the latest podcast, click here.