The Lost Style of the British Brown Ales

by Steve Thanos | Updated: July 30, 2019

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 we 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 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.

British Brown Ales
Original gravity measuring at 1.056.

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.

There are NO NUTS used in this Beer

It should be noted that “Nut” is still used today as part of the description of many brown ales. “Nut” describes the brown color and not the flavor you should expect in the beer.

Style Profile

Style Profile for a British Brown Ales as are set by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Committee.

Color Range: 12 – 22 SRM
Original Gravity: 1.040 – 1.052
Final Gravity: 1.008 – 1.013
IBU Range: 20 – 30
ABV Range: 4.2 – 5.4%
Aroma: Sweet malt aroma, toffee, nutty, light chocolate notes. Light floral
or earthy hop aroma.
Flavor: Moderate malt sweetness, caramel character, may also have a nutty, toasted, biscuit, toffee or light chocolate character.
Appearance: Dark amber to dark reddish-brown color with low to moderate off-white to tan head.
Mouthfeel: Medium body with medium carbonation

I first brewed this beer a couple years ago. I was gifted several pounds of fresh Mt. Hood hops from my brother-in-law’s boss, Jim. I decided to brew this Northern English Brown Ale. I called the beer, Buíchas, which translates to gratitude in Gaelic. I shared some of this beer Jim. We both loved it.

British Brown Ales
Milling your grains at home.

Buíchas – British Brown Ale Recipe

British Brown Ales
Mash temp coming in at 151°F(66°C).

Batch Size: 5.5 gallons
Boil Size: 7.5 gallons
OG: 1.051
FG: 1.015
Color: 21.4 SRM
Efficiency: 82%
Bitterness: 28 IBUs
Alcohol: 4.6% ABV

British Brown Ales
Read the review for The Brew Bag.

Grain
• 81% 7.5lbs Maris Otter
• 10%. 1lb Munich
• 6% 0.25lb Chocolate Malt
• 3% 0.25lb Caramel/Crystal 80
• 3% 0.25lb Biscuit Malt

Hops

• Mt. Hood 1oz 60 min. 6 AA. 20.4 IBUs
• Mt. Hood 1oz. 10 min. 6 AA. 7.4 IBUs

Yeast

• White Labs London Ale WLP013 75% Attenuation

British Brown Ales
White Labs 013 London Ale Yeast ready to work.

Water (Water in Ppm) Started with RO Water
• Ca: 60
• Mg: 10
• Na: 10
• Cl: 60
• SO4: 65
• pH: Around 5.6

British Brown Ales
Brewing salts added to RO water.

My Tasting Notes

British Brown Ales
The results of my work.

Aroma
Slight toast, roast, hint of nuts, low earthy-like notes. No noticeable fruit or esters.

Appearance
Light copper, ruby highlights, low tan head that is long lasting, crystal clear

Flavor
Clean, crisp, refreshing. Moderate toast, slight roast, hint of nuts. Low hop bitterness.

Mouthfeel
Very clean and refreshing. Moderate to low body and carbonation. Slight astringency likely from the dark malts.

Overall Impression
Very nice, approachable beer. The difficulty of this type of beer is adding the complexity with such a restrained grain bill and a limited fermentation temperature range.

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.