Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Brown Ale Face-Off

A couple of weeks ago I asked the Twitter community if there were any cool people that would like to do a guest review here. You'd be surprised how apparently few cool people there are over there. It's either that or they really don't care too much about this blog.

But a few people stepped up including Tim Noetzel from Pintley. Here is his take on Brown Ales. Let him know what you think!

Brown Ale Face-Off

by Tim Noetzel

I should probably start this guest post with a disclaimer: I have some very smart friends, but almost none of them know anything about beer. I know engineers who can calculate wind farm power outputs on the back side of a beer coaster but can't tell you if they're drinking an ale or a lager. I know brilliant medical students who think all dark beers are bitter. I know future titans of industry who think of basketball players when I say the word "hops." While I love my friends, there's something altogether depressing about having a beer with them. Seriously... total idiots. That said, occasionally their uninformed perspective yields a unique and, dare I say it, interesting perspective on what many avid beer drinkers take for granted.

I was talking to one such friend a few days ago, when he informed me that there was one style of beer he just couldn't stand. "You know," he said, "I really don't like brown ales. What a completely terrible style!" Having never heard anyone rail on brown ales before, I asked him what his hangup was. Strangely enough, he explained that he found brown ales—more often than not considered one of the more complex of English and American styles—altogether too boring. "They seem like they just don't want to commit," he explained, "they're really not that bitter, but they're not all that sweet, either."

When I thought about it, he actually did have a bit of a point. Brown ales are often quite complex, but many of them are so tempered in their complexity that they don't really satisfy the boldness of today's American palate. With that in mind, I thought I'd present a Brown Ale Face-Off. Here are a few brown ales that are anything but boring. All of them pull off "complexity" without shying away from the kinds of exciting flavor experiments that send shier taste buds running home crying to mommy.

Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale

Dogfish Head's award-winning Indian Brown Ale is popular for a reason. This flavorful, well-hopped beer packs a punch. Dogfish describes their beer as a cross between a Scotch Ale, an IPA, and a Brown Ale, and I'm inclined to agree with them. The beer pours a deep, ruby brown with a strong, foamy head. The beer's aroma is bold and complex; scents of caramelized sugars, chocolate, and a floral hop bouquet mix wonderfully. The taste is similarly exciting. The beer has a smooth mouth feel and daring intricacy. A sweet maltiness forms the backbone of the beer's taste, on which hang notes of herbs, berries, chocolate, and molasses. Very drinkable at 7.2% abv and 50 IBUs, Dogfish's Indian Brown Ale is sure to please both beer enthusiasts and novices alike.

Brooklyn Brown Ale

Brooklyn Brewery's Brown Ale blends six malts to build an adventurous, full-flavored beer. The beer appears earthy-brown with a thin, tan-colored head and minimal lacing. A biscuity, roasted aroma is tempered with hints of caramel sweetness that become much more prevalent with the first sip. Smooth, with a slightly oily mouth feel, the roasted malty flavor gives way to a textured nuttiness and sweeter notes of caramel and hazelnut. Sessionable at 5.5% abv, Brooklyn's Brown Ale is an excellent foray into the world of vibrant brown ales that don't hold punches.

Goose Island Naughty Goose

Goose Island's Naughty Goose is a brown ale with an attitude. The brewer describes their brown ale as "so indulgent, it's naughty," and they're probably right. The beer pours an almost maple brown with a creamy head and even lacing. Hop floral notes and a subtle nuttiness combine in the aroma. A dark, roasted sweetness pervades the taste and combines with hints of hazelnut and vanilla. A subdued hop bitterness balances the sweetness well. At 5.4% abv and 35 IBUs, Naughty Goose is a brilliant example of brown ale done well.

Pretty Things St. Botolph's Town

Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project has some truly exceptional offerings, but one of my favorites is St. Botolph's Town, an English-style brown ale with a Yorkshire malt base. The beer is fermented with both a German ale yeast strain and a Belgian yeast strain, lending it an incredible intricacy. It pours a beautiful dark brown with a strong tan head and good lacing and possesses an excellent toasted aroma. The malt base lends a powerful sweetness, complicated by a subtle smoky character and a nuanced hop presence. St. Botolph's town weighs in modestly at 5.7% abv, but it possesses an exciting complexity rarely found in American-produced English style brown ales.

Tim Noetzel is the co-founder Pintley, an online community that helps consumers drink better beer. Pintley offers personalized beer recommendations, tasting notes and pairings, and a vibrant community.


Daniel said...

I can definitely identify with this post. In a recent blog post, I wrote that I had pretty much dismissed brown ales before trying Sam Smith's Nut Brown Ale. Brown ales are, as much as I hate to say it, fairly boring. Don't get me wrong: I like them, but they just don't wow me.

I guess it's not surprising that we're starting to see more imperial or double browns pop up.

Hannah said...

Ok, first, I LOVE DFH Indian Brown Ale - it's such a great balance of malt and hops, which to me, is atypical of the style but refreshing in every way.

Secondly, I did not enjoy the movie "Face Off" but it does have 2 of my favorite lines in it of all time... just not sure if I should post them in comments :)

Unknown said...

@Daniel - Agreed! Your average brown ale is a very safe, middle of the road beer. The four I reviewed, however, are sure to wow. I love Sam Smith's Nut Brown, too!

@Hannah - Terrible, unintentionally hilarious move! Dunno what Rob's rules are, but if it were me, I'd post them :P

Beer Drinker Rob said...

Oh, Hannah. Seriously, I have cursed, put up sex toy ads from Amazon, spit on ultra liberals, and called out Wal-mart on shitty service. There is a line but I doubt you will go there.

I saw that movie, but not in a while. Go for it!

Beer Drinker Rob said...

To prove a point, the line was close (yet not past) when Cooking Asshole called a commenter a "Fucking Political Prisoner" in this post.

Hannah said...

Alright Beer Drinker - here's 2 of my fav movie lines ever, both which happen to be in Face-Off, both by Nicholas Cage's character:

1. I could eat a peach for hours.

2. If I were to buy you flowers... no, wait... if I were to let you suck my tongue, would you be grateful?

So, no, not TOO bad but quite suggestive :)

marie said...

you win for that comment: "Seriously... total idiots."

I have issues with nut brown ales. It has nothing to do with taste, but the words "nut brown" just sound gross to me.

I haven't tried any of those but I have had Bloomington Brewing's B-Town Brown and Dirty Helen Brown Ale. They were pretty good.