For this week’s edition of “It’s Just a Beer,” I’ll be exploring the always tasty and often overlooked world of Brown Ales.
Personally, this is a style I like to go for when I’ve been trying a lot of crazy stuff and I just want to sit down with something tasty but not over-the-top. Characterized by a dark amber or brown color, brown ales are malty glasses of goodness that can take any number of form and flavor.
Newcastle Brown Ale
Newcastle could quite possibly have been my gateway beer to craft beer as a whole. Due to its huge distribution thanks to the global presence of Heineken brand products, this beer was always readily available alongside the traditional American macros. For the purposes of this post, I was able to purchase a single bottle from the create-your-own sixpack at my local beer store but I’ve bought this beer in six- and 12-packs, bombers and – my personal favorite – the mini-keg.
The first thing one will notice is that this beer comes in a clear glass bottle. Why this is, I still am not too sure but from personal experience, I suggest only purchasing as much of this beer as you’re willing to drink in a relatively short amount of time because the taste does turn quicker than beers in darker bottles because of science and all that. Mini-kegs tend to stay fresh for just as long, if not longer than the recommended time period printed on the keg.
I’m probably 50/50 on pouring this beer into a glass and drinking it straight from the bottle, it’s really all dictated by how chipper I’m feeling at any given time. If poured, the beer creates and decent yet thin head that quickly falls. On the nose, the beer smells like … well … beer but with a very slight hoppy aroma. Taste-wise it’s a clean, crisp, roasted malt flavor with a slight hop kick on the end that finishes sweet.
If you’re lucky enough to get a bottle that is relatively fresh – it is an imported beer so American drinkers are at the mercy of an importer with this one – you’ll also get a hint of some tasty nuttiness along with the upfront malts. If you have a case that may have been on the shelves for a little bit, I have found the beer to still be quite delicious. I am hard-pressed to recall a time when a Newcastle has been too far gone for me to finish but as a general rule of thumb, always look for a born-on date.
Side note, this beer is also great in chili, soups and roasts!
Old Brown Dog Ale
Whereas Newcastle opened me up to a wider world of beer, Old Brown Dog was a beer that made brown ales one of my favorite styles, made better by its fairly wide distribution so even in a pinch, chances are pretty good there will be either a six-pack or a Smutty sampler at a supermarket or gas station wherever I may find myself.
When poured, the beer tends to form little to no head but is bursting with a sweet aroma that mixes the roasted malts, chocolate and hops. On the palate, Old Brown Dog offers a lot more flavor than a Newcastle. Up front, Old Brown Dog is sweet and malty before going into a floral hoppy phase that still maintains its malty backbone. The finish, however, is the best part with the sweet chocolate notes blending with the continued bitter hops for a dry, near dark chocolate finish.
This is a great beer to pick up if you’re still spreading your wings with craft beer. It’s fairly readily available and offers a lot without being too intimidating. Despite its deep flavor profile, this beer remains highly crushable so if you’re in the mood to drink more than one, do not shy away from this beer. To boot, it tends to come in a really good sampler pack which is always a great way to try new beers and styles while also exploring more a given brewery has to offer.
What’s also cool about this beer is that Smutty offers an aged version, Really Old Brown Dog. Although still in the brown ale family, this beer takes on the “old ale” name. The 2014 offering comes in at 11.1% alcohol, according to Smutty’s website. Sadly, I’ve never even seen a Really Old Brown Dog but it is very high on my list of must-try-beers. If I ever find one, I am 100-percent certain there will be a post about it.
Hazelnut Brown Nectar
Style: American Brown Ale
Brewery: Rogue Ales & Spirits
Coming at you from the brewery that brought the world Sriracha Stout and Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale (also an American Brown Ale), this much more relaxed offering is still every bit as delicious as its more boisterous counterparts.
As soon as you pop the top on this brew, you immediately get a strong whiff of sweet hazelnuts, chocolate and sweet roasted malts. The scent carries through the entire pour, culminating in a dark brown beer with a frothy head that quickly falls, leaving a nice lace.
On the tongue, this beer treats you a little differently than the Newcastle or the Old Brown Dog. Where those beers have a more familiar thin mouth-feel, this beer is noticeably thicker but not in the same way heavier beers like stouts or porters are. It just has greater presence, so to speak.
Flavor-wise, this beer very much lives up to its name and smell. It’s a rich, velvety sweet ale with chocolate and hazelnuts upfront, finishing with a sweet roasted malt taste. As it warms up, the roasted malt mellows out and blends into the hazelnuts and chocolate more, giving the beer a more uniform taste from start to finish.
Haveing allowed the second half of the beer to warm up, I prefer it closer to room temperature. To put a number to it: straight from the fridge, this beer is a 4.5/5 all day but as it warms up, it becomes a 4.75/5. The only thing holding this beer back from a perfect score is I wish either the hazelnuts or the chocolate would take center stage instead of both sharing the limelight. Going off the name, I was expecting an over the top nuttiness but who cares, this beer is still great.
If you find yourself in a store that sells craftier beers, I highly suggest picking this or any other Rogue brew up. That being said, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bottle of Rogue beer outside of a beer store or a supermarket like Wegman’s that has a fully committed craft beer section.
Going back to food, I bet this would be pretty awesome in a frosting, cake or even a pudding or mousse.
Thanks for stopping by this week! At the moment, I’m not too sure what next week is going to bring so if you have any suggestion for styles or specific beers or breweries, please let me know in the comments or hit me up on any number of my social media channels. And if you see any of these beers or anything else that looks tasty, pick it up and give it a try. In the end, it’s just a beer!