Not long ago I wrote an email called “Line 'em up” that got an enthusiastic response, so now I'm bringing it to the blog for a regular series.
In that email I compared 3 Oktoberfests side by side. The purpose of Line' em up isn't so much to pick the best beer (though I do that), it's for beer education. One of the best ways to train your palate is to drink beers side by side and pick up their nuances.
When the styles (and flavors) are similar, this gets more difficult. Which is why it works!
Colorado Brown Ales
I lined up 3 Colorado brown ales. All I've had before, and all I'm a huge fan of. My home state sure can brew some good browns. Now let's see how they compare.
Here's what I had:
- Avery Ellie's Brown Ale
- Upslope Brown
- Bull & Bush Big Ben Brown
The first thing you notice about these is the lack of head retention on Ellie's versus the others. But as your about to see, that's the only knock against the brown dog!
Ellie's aroma was the most complex: milk chocolate, fruit, and nutty aromas all appeared. There were no hops to speak of, however. It's a more toned down brown ale whereas Upslope's was quite the opposite.
That beer was much more “Americanized.” Bigger and more aggressive. Much hoppier, too. You even find a bit of roast in the Upslope. They could put “porter” on the label and I wouldn't argue with it. The flavor is very clean. This is a beer that knows what it is and makes no apologies.
Big Ben was radically different than any of them. Bull & Bush brews in the English-style and their beers have signature flavor from the yeast. It's a very fruity, estery character. In Big Ben I got a ton of red licorice aromas along with a good dose of caramel from the malt. The fruity, sugary aromas dominated any hops that might be present.
When it came to flavor the three were also very different. Ellie's and Big Ben had very little bitterness while Upslope's was medium-high. I got a spicy, earthy character from the hops in Upslope.
Again there was a ton of esters in Big Ben along with the sweet caramel and rich malt backbone. They pack a lot of flavor into a small package.
When it was all said and done I had to give the trophy to Ellie's. It's the most well-balanced of the three and I appreciated all the nuances. Avery does a damn good job with this beer and it's no surprise that Ellie's is a favorite here in Colorado.
Upslope has its place – at 6.7% abv it's a super strong brown. When you're looking to kickstart your night it's a great choice. It just doesn't have the drinkability to earn the top spot. The roast should toned down and I'd like to see the base malts shine through more.
Big Ben is also a very good beer. My knock is that it's just too fruity. Some people might love that but it's too much for me after a while.
So there you have it! Three brown ales but three VERY different beers!