Expressions of artful balance, brown ales are a style that is well suited for nearly every drinking situation. Still, it lags in popularity behind other darker colored beers like stout and porter. Those two styles, however, lean more heavily into roasted malt flavor, where brown ales are about nuance and working in harmony with hops.
The style is broken down into several different categories. All are similar but offer subtle differences that may suit some palates over others. As the name suggests, the color of this ale is brown, sometimes tan or chestnut. Garnet highlights can be seen in clear versions around the rim of a glass and the foam is typically off-white or tan.
British versions are light and nutty, showing toffee, caramel and chocolate aromas and flavors. The hop profile leans earthy and sometimes floral. While its popularity has waned in recent years, Newcastle may be the best-known version of this style, thanks to its longevity and large distribution footprint.
American brown ales often have a more pronounced hop content. These typically play into earthy or floral aromas and flavors, but sometimes drive into fruitier expressions.
Overall, the alcohol ranges from 4–6% for brown ales, although imperial or double versions will be higher.
Some brewers are using the style for adjuncts and experimentations, playing into the existing sugary flavors of the malt bill. This yields pie-flavored beers that play up the flavors of cocoa and coffee.
The easy nature of brown ales means it is suitable for any situation. Served cold from the can alongside grilled foods at a midsummer cookout, the malts complement the meal. In a mug on a winter’s night in a cozy tavern, it’s comfortable without being too heavy. The best examples of the style are a combination of traditional ingredients that work in harmony and easily play into the background.