How To Brew London Brown Ale

by Steve Thanos | Updated: July 25, 2021

London Brown Ale is a part of a beer style that has been around since the beginning of brewing beer. Mostly this was in large part due to malt being dried over open flames prior to the kilning processes being developed.

Although the utilization of wheat in beer did provide for some pale-colored beers to be produced. However, most beers coming out were indeed brown in color. 

Necessity Breeds Innovation

This trend of brown beers continued until the beginning of the 18th century. It was then that the public’s taste for beer shifted to higher-hopped pale ales. This prompted brown beer brewers to reshape their recipes.

As a result the alcohol content and bitterness lever for brown beers were raised and these beers were aged for longer. This created a dry and more bitter version of their brown beers.

The English Porter was born out of this transition. 

Mann’s Brown Ale

The first modern version for a brown ale was Mann’s Brown Ale. First brewed in 1902 by Mann, Crossman and Paulin at the Albion Brewery in the East End of London.

This beer would become the shining example of London (Southern English) Brown. 

Albion Brewery 

Established in 1808, Albion Brewery was built by Richard Ivory. The brewery was then leased to John Mann and Philip Blake in 1818 after the previous tenant had money problems.

1826 saw Blake retire and Mann continued to brew with new partners Robery Crossman and Thomas Paulin in 1846. This spawned the creation of Mann, Crossman & Paulin. 

Advancements

Mann’s Brown Ale was actually invented by Thomas Wells Thorpe. Working his was way as head brewer, general manager, and finally Mann, Crossman & Paulin became a public company with Thorpe serving as chairman. 

Gaining Popularity

Mann’s Brown ale was advertised as the “sweetest beer in London.” The sweetness for this beer came from the low attenuation. The beer had a starting gravity of 1.033 and an ABV of 2.7.

This low ABV served as a great way for Mann’s Brown ale to gain popularity. After World War I, the British government was advocating for low alcohol beers in order to save on raw materials and help with public drunkenness. 

Style Profile for London Brown Ale

Appearance

London Brown ales are dark brown, almost black. Clarity is good, opaque. Low to mid sized head is tan to off-white and low to medium in size.

Aroma

The aroma is sweet. Notes of deep rich toffee or caramel. Fruity esters are also present, especially dark fruit such as plum.

Hops are low, if present at all, with English hop varieties being floral and/or earthy. 

Flavor

Similar to the aroma, the flavor is sweet and driven by the malt. Caramel and toffee-like with come notes of coffee and biscuit. Roast and bitterness from the malt is mid low.

Dark fruity esters are common. Hop bitterness is low and favor should not be noticed. If present at all, floral and/or earthy is the character. Finish is medium sweet, perceived as sugary and malty-smooth. 

Mouthfeel

The high sweetness of this beer makes it seem like a medium bodied beer. Mouthfeel is smooth and creamy. Carbonation is low to medium. 

Tips for Brewing your own London Brown Ale

Grain

Since this style is so low in alcohol and has such a great mouthfeel, the selection of high-quality base malt and specialty grains is vital in recipe development. Maris Otter is a good start when thinking of base malts.

For specialty mats, the darker end of crystal malts, 80L and up are the best choice. This will provide the sweetness and the dark fruitiness you are looking for in this beer. Keep the crystal malts to 20-25% of the total grist. 

Mann’s original recipe contained some wheat to help with the body and also Brown malt. Keeping both at around 10%.

Other specialty malts would include: oats, special roast, chocolate, chocolate rye, Carafa Special II, and biscuit. Keep the aforementioned specialty malts below 8% of your total grist.

Hops

Since the hop profile for this style is pretty small, one addition at the beginning of the boil is all you really need. English hops such as Fuggles or East Kent Goldings would be pretty authentic.

Other hop varieties include: Target, Liberty, Northern Brewer, Sovereign, and Willamette. 

Yeast

There is a wide selection of yeast to choose from for this style. They include the following: 

  • White Labs: English Ale (WLP002); London Ale (WLP013). 
  • Wyeast: London ESB Ale(1968); London Ale III(1318); Whitebread Ale (1099). 
  • Dry Yeast: Cooper’s Ale Yeast; Lallemand Cask & Bottle Conditioning CBC-1 Fermentis SafAle S-04.

London Brown Ale By the Numbers

  • Color Range: 22 -35 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.033 – 1.038 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.012 – 1.015 FG
  • IBU Range: 15 – 20
  • ABV Range: 2.8 – 3.6% 

Martin Keen’s London Brown Ale Recipe

Grain

  • 57%            4 lbs       Maris Otter
  • 14%            1 lb         English Extra Dark Crystal
  •   7%            8 oz        Brown Malt
  •   7%            8 oz        Caramel/Crystal Malt 80L
  •   7%            8 oz        Crystal 45
  •   4%            4 oz        Chocolate Rye
  •   4%            4 oz        Pale Chocolate

Hops

  • 1 oz         Fuggle – Boil – 45 min

Yeast

  • 1.0 pkg   London Ale III Wyeast #1318

Transcript: Tally ho old chap! Jolly good morning to you.

Today we’re brewing the sweet and malty style of London brown ale, and we’re going behind the scenes of my brew day.

My name is Martin Keen and I’m taking the Homebrew Challenge to brew 99 beers in 99 weeks. And each week I show you my brew day as I mash, boil, and chill my wort.

But that’s really only half the story because the other thing that I’m doing each time is filming this whole thing. So I thought today, as I brew today’s beer, it might be interesting to take a look behind the scenes, the other stuff that I’m doing on brew day as well.

So this is my home brewery set up. You’ve seen it many times from these angles, but from this wide angle here, perhaps you can see how small the area is. It’s, uh, I can’t quite touch both sides of the wall was out, but it’s not far off.

So I do have to be very careful to maximize the space in every way that I can. Now I have three cameras recording here. I have this main camera, this side camera here. And then this camera here above me.

They’re all recording at a higher resolution than I need, which means that they can zoom in on me without losing quality. Maybe not that much. And they also are recording at a higher frame rate than I need so that I can slow things down if I need to.

And with all the cameras rolling, let’s get the grain in. Oh, smells biscuity and wonderful already.

Now this beer London brown ale is also known as Southern brown ale. The Southern refers to the Southern part of England. I am from the south of England originally from Southampton. So this is, uh, a style that really resonates with me.

Okay. The wort already has just a wonderful chocolaty appearance to it. Let’s get it mashing. I think this is the part where I wonder off and talk about the recipe.

Well, at this point, typically I’ll grab my iPad and remind myself of the recipe because it’s probably been weeks since I put it together. Now this one, this, this beer, it is sweet multy with caramel and toffee flavors. Which is quite different from the Northern Brown version, which perhaps is a little bit less sweet and a little bit more nutty.

Now the beer that I’m building here is going to have an original gravity of 10 35. So around about three and a half percent ABV.

As for the ingredients. This is when I’ll usually take a sneaky look on my iPad. Ah yes, the main base malt is Maris Otter. That is 57% of the grist. And then I’m using extra dark crystal malt that has a SRM of around 120. And I’m using that for 14%. I’m using 7% each of brown malt, crystal 80 and crystal 45. And at 4%, each of the chocolate rye and pale chocolate malt.

The history of London brown ale, it goes back hundreds of years, but perhaps it’s best encapsulated by a beer in the late 1800 called mans brown ale. It was billed as the sweetest beer in London. That’s one example, but there are plenty of brown ales all across Southern England.

And speaking of Southern England, well that does relate to my home at brewery named saints and devils, which you may know refers to two English soccer teams. There’s saints. That’s my team, south Hampton, which is unsurprisingly in the south of England. And then, so there’s my buddy’s name Devils. We don’t need to talk about those guys.

As I was looking through my phone to find some pictures of me, enjoying some wonderful beverages in Southern England, I came across this old video of me visiting the mighty saints in person. Look, this is a total indulgence. It’s not beer related, but I couldn’t do a whole series of videos with this in the background, without at least showing the mighty saints video.

Exactly 15 hours from now. So Hampton, my team are playing arsenal in the English premier league, and I’ve got a ticket. Only problem is the game is being played in Southampton, England, and I’m in Raleigh USA. Time to get moving.

Honestly saints, they’re not the best team, but I’ve continued the family tradition and passed the misery on to the next generation too.

There’s not a whole lot to do when it comes to hops with this beer, I’m going to be using Fuglle. This’ll give me around 18 IBU of bitterness and the fuggle will be in the wort for 45 minutes.

I hit my original gravity number right on the money. The, yeast, for this one, I’m using London Ale III.

This is wyeast 1318. I’m going to be fermenting this one at my usual 68 Fahrenheit or 27C. Okay.

So this is the behind the scenes of tasting. Um, it’s thursday we normally do the tastings on Thursdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays. Yeah.

It gives us time then to gives me time to edit it, get a thumbnail, send that to atlantic brew supply, have them put it on the website and come up with the recipe webpage and so forth.

So English brown ale, specifically Southern or London brown ale today. Oh yeah, I remember. Okay. Yeah. Yeah. That’s right. I forgot what we drink here for a minute. Yeah. So is it brown? It looks very brown to me that smells like an English pub brown ale right. All right. Yeah, it does too.

Smells a bit like caramel. Yeah. Sweet, sweet smell. Smell a bit sweet. It does. There is a sweet tone to that. Yeah. Coffee caramel, not coffee, caramel or toffee. Toffee. Toffee. That’s what I’m thinking of. Yeah.

All right. Well, let’s say let’s give it a try. How do you drink from these things like this? Or like that’s more of a cup of tea or like a couple of cup of tea when your hands, this is okay. That has got that little bit of caramel. Very, quite sweet to it. Quite light as well, light body. And I would say.

Well, thank you for watching and seeing how the sausage is made, but next week it’s a, it’s another smokey bear. Yup. Now I’m good. You can buy somebody else for that one. Well, okay then see you next week.

Cheers. 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.