Review: Short’s Bellaire Brown

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.

Beer of the Week: Bell’s Third Coast Old Ale

Third Coast

Bell’s Third Coast Old Ale

Perception of a beer is experiential, beyond just appearance, smell and taste. Time, place, state of mind make all the difference between what one perceives as a good or great beer.

The classic example is heavy stouts for cold, snow nights. Bell’s Brewery is Southwestern Michigan makes amazing stouts like nobody’s business. Yet, this winter I have found myself craving its Third Coast Old Ale more than any other beer.  

This is a cold-weather beer all the way at 10.2% ABV with a mountain of malt character. As I write this, it is a gloomy, chilly, misty March night in Northern Wisconsin. I had a long day at work and braved the chill and drizzle for an hour on the road bike afterward. That is a great formula for a relaxed, treat-yourself mood. And this beer is a treat.

My bottle shows a 10/08/14 packaging date. Smell is all caramel, cherry and booze. It is utterly rich on the tongue. Bell’s describes this old ale having burnt caramel and dark fruit notes, which is on point. But I pick up a little extra something with every sip of this deep amber-colored beer: vanilla, wood, molasses. Bottom line is that this beer has deep malt complexity. There’s a lasting bitterness too, but the finish is delightfully smooth.

This should make for a nice sipper for preparing a casserole with hearty meat and root vegetables, or simply with a soft brie or camembert while watching rain or snow drift down under the pale glow of street lights. Let yourself be alone with those melancholy thoughts, imagining all the streams meandering to the Great Lakes of the Third Coast.  

Rating: Glass – Growler – Case – KEG