How To Brew British Brown Ale | Homebrew Challenge

by Steve Thanos | Last Updated: October 6, 2020

British Brown Ales have been around since the beginning of brewing history. It has been said that the malt is dried over open flames. This was prior to the kilning process that we know today.

British Brown Ales were pretty popular and trended upward until the beginning of the 18th century. People were leaning toward a higher-hopped pale ale that was peaking its hoppy head around the corner. Where have we heard this before?

As to be expected, the brewers who were still brewing these brown ales decided to increase the strength and bitterness of their beer. This was the genesis of the English Porter. With the hype new kid on the block and people still holding on to the Pale Ale, the Brown Ale was sadly forgotten.

It would take over 150 years for a beer called Mann’s Brown Ale brewed by Mann, Crossman, and Paulin in the East End of London in 1902. This beer was promoted all through London as the “sweetest beer in London.”

The Great Gravity Drop

Between the years 1914 to 1919, the British saw a difference in their beers; namely in the alcohol content. Due to the end of World War I, having the aspiration of saving money on raw materials, and trying to curb drunkenness in public, beer strengths dropped 25% across the country.

Mann’s Brown Ale saw a sudden uptick in sales as everyone was gravitating towards this 2.7% beer. As history shows us, there were other breweries trying to re-create their own versions of this beer. This is where Londoners were first introduced to Newcastle Brown Ale.

Today’s British Brown Ales

In the 2008 BJCP styles guidelines shows the Mann’s Brown Ale representing the Southern English Brown Ale and Newcastle Brown Ale epitomizes the Northern English Brown Ale style in category 11: English Brown Ale.

In the 2015 BJCP styles guidelines, Northern Brown Ale was shifted to category 13 Brown British Beer under 13B – British Brown Ale. The Southern English Brown Ale was cataloged in the Historical Styles (27) as London Brown Ale.

Nick Carr of kegerator.com has a helpful chart that illustrates the differences between Northern English Brown Ales vs London Brown Ale (Southern English Brown Ale). In order to illustrate these differences, I have included Nick’s differences below.

Northern English Brown Ales vs London Brown Ale (Southern English Brown Ale. The defining differences between these two distinctly separate styles include:

  • Strength – The British style is stronger.
  • Sweetness – The London style is much sweeter.
  • Bitterness – The London version has a lower IBU range.
  • Color – London is usually a dark brown, while the British tends to be more a red/amber brown.

Style Profile for British Brown Ale

Appearance

The color is dark amber to dark reddish-brown. Clear with a low to moderate off-white to light tan head.

Aroma

Light, sweet malt aroma with toffee, nutty, or light chocolate characteristics. There is also a light to heavy caramel quality. Light floral or earthy hop aroma may also be presented. A light, but not overpowering, fruity hop aroma may be detected.

Mouthfeel

Medium-light to medium body. The carbonation is medium to medium-high.

Taste

Moderate malt sweetness is detectable in this style. Light to heavy caramel character with a dry finish. Malt may be nutty, toasted, biscuity, toffee, or light chocolate character. Medium to medium-low bitterness.

Malt and hop balance ranged from even to malt-focused. Hop flavor is low to none at all with floral or earth qualities. Low to moderate fruity esters can be detected.

Food Pairing

Dark milds generally pair well with roasted pork, steak, and nuts. This beer also does well alongside some aged Gouda cheese. If you are looking to pair a British brown ale with dessert, pear fritters will be the sweet pairing you are looking for.

Tips for Brewing your own British Brown Ale

Grain

The base malt for this beer is important. British pale malt or Maris Otter will work well as your base malt. British pale malt works better than American 2-Row since it is darker in color. Mild malt is also an option as your base malt if you can find it.

You will need to adjust your specialty grains to help compensate for the darker color of the malt and the increased toasted, nutty flavor of mild malt.

The specialty malts will consist of a moderate amount of crystal malt with no more than 10% of the grist. In order to build the nutty and toasty character, Victory malt is the answer. Pale chocolate malt will also assist well in the pursuit of the beautiful brown color.

Hops

Traditional British hops are a good choice. Hops such as East Kent Golgins, Fuggles, Northern Brewer, Goldings, Challenger, and Northdown are a few to choose from for this style. Bitterness will be kept at around the 20-30 IBU range. This will provide enough bitterness to balance the sweet maltiness of a British brown ale.

Most of your hopping for this beer will take place at the 60 minute mark. Possibly a small amount at the end of the boil is acceptable as well.

Yeast

A British yeast with moderate attenuation and low to moderate esters is what you are looking for with this style.

Try to find one of the following: White Labs WLP013 London Ale, WLP005 British Ale, WLP023 Burton Ale or Wyeast 1028 London Ale, 1098 British Ale, 1275 Thames Valley Ale and 1335 British Ale II.Safale S-04 or Danstar Winsor are the dry yeast choices.

British Brown Ale By the Numbers

  • Color Range: 12 – 22 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.040 – 1.052 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.008 – 1.013 FG
  • IBU Range: 20 – 30
  • ABV Range: 4.2 – 5.4%

Martin Keen’s British Brown Ale Recipe

Grain

  • 76% 7lbs Maris Otter Malt
  • 11% 1lb Crystal 45
  • 5% 8oz Brown Malt
  • 5% 8oz Torrified Wheat
  • 3% 4oz Pale Chocolate Malt

Hops

East Kent Golding Hops 1 oz.
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Smooth and delicate with floral, lavender, spice, honey, earth, lemon and thyme overtones. Packaged in nitrogen flushed, oxygen barrier mylar-foil bag.

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Yeast

Wyeast Strain 1318 - London Ale III

From a traditional London brewery, this yeast has a wonderful malt and hop profile

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Directions

Mash at 152°F (66°C) for 60 mins

Boil for 60 mins

Transcript: It’s the cleaning episode. We’re going to talk about my process and all the gadgets that I use to keep everything clean while brewing up a British Brown ale. Hi, I’m Martin Keen and I’m taking the Homebrew Challenge to brew 99 beers in 99 weeks. Today is British Brown ale or English Brown Ale.

Now I am from the Southern part of England originally. And although this beer does come in a Southern England kind of Brown ale, I think the best known version is from a bit further North.

Now this beer is toasty, of course, because it’s English a bit nutty as well, perhaps, but varying away from any sort of roastingness that you might get in a darker beer, like a Porter. So how do we get to toasty and nutty, but not roasty? Well, the base malt for this is Maris Otter theres your toasty right there, 76%. And then I’m going to combine that with 11% of Crystal 45.

Then for the remaining specialty malts. Well, this is a Brown ale. I’m going to add some Brown malt. It’s 5% Brown malt, and that will give us that nutty flavor. And I’m also going to add 5% to torrified wheat, which is primarily there for the mouthfeel. And then to top it off, I’m using 3% pale chocolate malt ,that will get us the color that we want without being too roasty.

I’ve mounted this camera on this telescopic arm here so I can get some cool overhead shots of the brewing process. Let’s see what you think. Mashing this guy for an hour, 152 Fahrenheit. Yeah, I think it’s time.

Yeah, the Best Bitter. This is still one of my favorite English beers that we’ve done so far.

How to Clean Home Brewing Equipment, easily

Now my approach to cleaning. Look, I understand the importance of cleaning. Obviously having clean home brewing equipment means you’re going to have probably better beer, but also it’s a total hassle that I try to get done as quickly and easily as possible. Let me show you some of the things that I use.

So what do I have for cleaning supplies? Well, first and foremost, PBW, just couldn’t live without this for cleaning. I use it for everything. I use this for soaking and cleaning my kettle. I use it for the hoses. It’s just really, really good for cleaning kegs as well.

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Um, I have this, which is a bottle washer. What this does is it connects to the faucet in my sink. And then it sprays up when you pull this down a very, very strong high pressure flow of water.

It is intended to clean bottles, but really you can use this to clean anything you want. It’s a good with hoses. It’s good to just cleaning out the containers. Get will just really get the job done with that high pressure water.

Now I have this hose here, that’s got two quick disconnects on it. One is to connect again to my faucet in my sink. And then this one, which connects to the quick disconnects on my Claw hammer supply system.

So I use this to send water through my plate chiller when I backwash and through the lid of the system where I have that spray valve at the top. And then yes, I have a little nylon brush. This is great for just scrubbing things and keeping things clean without really damaging any of the stainless steel.

There is also one other little secret cleaning ingredient that I use. I’ve used it ever since I started brewing. That is my little SpongeBob cloth. It’s a little SpongeBob rag that well, it’s got holes in it. Now. I don’t know. I still use this for wiping stuff down. It’s sort of a, has sentimental value at this point.

Hops

Now the hop schedule; I’m using East Kent Golding hops exclusively in this beer. For the bittering, we want to get to about 27 IBU of bitterness. And I’m going to add East Kent Golding in at 45 minutes to get 25 of those IBU. Then five minutes from the end, I’m going to throw in whatever I’ve got left in the bag as the aroma hop as well of East Kent Golding. And that will contribute a couple more points of IBUs.

Now, I like to clean in place rather than leaving all of the cleanup tasks until the end. And my first opportunity to clean something is now that I’ve got this mesh grain basket out. So this is full of grain and I need to get it clean.

First thing I’m going to do is just take this trash bag, put it over the top, then dump this out. But clearly there’s still some work to do so now I’m going to rinse this out. Now that has got the worst of it out. There’s still a few green sticker on the edges, so I’ll deploy SpongeBob to fix that problem.

There we go. That’s good enough. It doesn’t need to be perfect because I am going to soak this a little bit later on.

Yeast is Wyeast, 1318 London Ale III. Can we add that in? And then ferment at 68 degrees. Now this is normally where I leave you and we magically move along to tasting, but not today. You’re coming along for the cleaning journey as well.

All right, step one. Let’s just clear some of this stuff up. I’m going to use this hose to backwash plate chiller, which means I’m going to connect it to the wort out. I’ll do just a few seconds is enough because I am going to run PBW through this in a moment. Now I need to rinse this guy out in the sink.

So I need to disconnect everything. I’m going to take the quick disconnect hose off, pull out the thermometer and then take out the heating element. The heating element unplugged. So I can just take this out and give it a little rinse. And now I bring this in here and I’m just gonna rinse everything out.

So first of all, With the little hops sleeve. And then give the kettle a quick rinse out too. I did everything back up and I’m about to put some water into this kettle. These lines, and the pump still have worked in them. So I’m just going to put some water in, using hot water, and then I’m going to drain the kettle using the pump. And I’m going to hook this back up to the plate chiller, Turn on the pump. And we’re now recirculating through the plate chiller.

I have some PBW here or about three quarters of the cup. I’m going to put that in now I’m using the hot water tap. So it’s about 120 Fahrenheit, the water there. And I’m just going to leave this recirculating just for a couple of minutes. All right, I’ve cut that off. Gonna to remove the plate chiller. And I’ll just rinse that again, using, using this. And then finally, I’m going to get this guy recirculating.

So I’m going to remove the hops sleeve or rinse that out at the basket back, hook it up, and run the pump.

We’ve got, PBW now circulating through the entire system. I’ll leave this pump running for a little bit. Then I’ll just shut it off and leave it overnight to soak. Then in the morning, I will just dump out the PBW give everything a rinse and I’m done. By the way the PBW that’s in here is great for using for other things as well. I’ll often use it to clean kegs after I’m done with it in here.

Now I realize as I’m talking through these steps, this seems really complicated, but it’s just a few minutes to give this a clean. And, um, it’s, it’s pretty straightforward and the system comes out, honestly looking pretty good to go ready for the next brew. Right? So I really am going to leave you now. And, uh, let’s go to the tasting.

Let’s give this beer a try, Lauren back for more,… always. Now, um, this beer being a Brown ale. Look when I was in university in college, back in the day, the drink of the student union was new-key Brown, which is, uh, which is a British brown like this. You ever had Newcastle Brown ale? Oh yeah. I’ve never heard it called Newkey brown.

That’s right. Yep. So let’s take a look and see what you think as to the color. Is it a Brown, Brown ale? It looks pretty Brown. Yes. And I’m not getting a lot. We think personally I’m not really smelling much. No. So unlike some of these other darker beers we’ve done that really smell quite strong, malty sweet kind of flavor. Not really getting too much.

No, I can’t pick out much. No, no. Okay. So let’s see how close we are to Nukey Brown on the taste.

I think it tastes really good. It’s it tastes, it tastes really light and very smooth.

Yeah. I agree. Definitely. I like to, um, flavor to this new castle brown, I think is actually a blend of a light ale and a dark ale, which is how they make it so completely different to this. Yeah. And this definitely is tastes on the lighter side of a Brown ale. I think. Well, look, Lauren, this is, I think the first time we held one of these beers and you’ve not commented on the glass, cause I know you’re a fan.

I am a fan of the glasses. Hey, the honeycomb glass as the perfect glass for all beers.

Absolutely. Well, cheers!

I am the former President of my homebrew club, Plainfield Ale and Lager Enthusiasts (PALE) in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL. I brew on my BIAB system with my incredibly patient and understanding wife, adorable 9 year old daughter, and 12 year old brew dog.