Note: in the current (2015) BJCP Style Guidelines, American Brown Ale is in category 19C. Category 19 Amber and Brown American Beer, contains modern American amber and brown warm-fermented beers of standard strength that can be balanced to bitter.
American Brown Ale Description
American Brown Ale, as a recognized style, has some unique roots among American beer styles. It comes by way of California by way of a Texas homebrew competition. One story goes that California homebrewers were making a dark brown ale with John Bull Dark Malt Extract, crystal and chocolate malts, and lots of local hops. It was a very popular kit and began winning many local and regional California homebrew competitions. The owner of DeFalco’s Home Wine and Beer Supplies in Houston found the beer on a trip to California. He was also a member of the FOAM Rangers, the local Houston homebrew club which puts on The Dixie Cup, one of the country’s largest and arguably one of the most unique homebrew competitions. In the early 1990’s, there weren’t as many styles as there are now. So the Dixie Cup decided to include a category called “California Dark”. It was an immediate success for the competition. As sometimes happens, the AHA picked up on the popularity of the style but for some reason named it “Texas Brown Ale” in honor of the first competition in which it was in its own category, The Dixie Cup.
Many still call these beers by the name “Texas Brown Ale”, but the style seems to be different. Texas Brown Ales are considered bigger versions of the style.
During the beginning of the craft beer movement in America, the USA fell in love with brown ales. Prior to this period, most were just imitations of the English Brown Ale style like Newcastle or other sweet English brown ales or dry Yorkshire versions. One of the first commercial versions was created by a brewer named Pete Slosberg at Pete’s Brewing Company. Pete’s Wicked Ale was born. It was darker and hoppier than the English examples, emphasizing its signature Brewer’s Gold hops for aroma, and people loved it. The style soon spread across the country and became a favorite in many microbreweries and brewpubs. Today the style can vary widely, from very hoppy, very bitter beers to those with a more subtle hop profile. Some have some residual sweetness and a rich malt profile to balance the hops while others finish dry, allowing the hops to shine through.
For most beers in this style, the toasty, caramel, and chocolate notes will be of medium intensity in both flavor and aroma. These beers have low to medium hop flavor and aroma and medium to medium-high hop bitterness.
Some important factors to consider when brewing an American Brown at home is that it is a very “American” beer. This means you must use a clean American yeast and American hops with the characteristic citrusy and fruity character. If you decide to use an English yeast, ferment at the lower end of the yeast’s tolerance to restrain the fruity esters. The grain bill should include crystal and other dark malts that provide the typical caramel, toasty and/or chocolate flavors and aromas.
- References: Information for this page was adapted from the 2008 and 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines, Brewing Classic Styles, 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer, the paper entitled Brown Ale Makes a Comeback! written by Jaime Jurado in 2001 and published in the journal The Brewer International, and the blog article entitled The History of American Brown Ale & American Pale Ale (Kind of) appearing in La Petite Brasserie and written by Brad Petit.