As fall quickly approaches and those dark winter months creep up on us, many craft beer lovers are looking to change their refreshing IPAs and Pilsners of the summer months with the warmth of a more comforting dark beer.
Not as popular as porters or stouts as a dark beer, the humble brown ale is a perfect choice if you want a beer that is lighter-bodied than the heavyweight stouts and porters.
Although ordering a quality American brown ale won’t make you the envy of the pub like the current darling of the craft beer scene, an IPA, you will be joining a growing brigade of beer enthusiasts who are branching out into brown ales.
Until recently the only brown ale choice in many bars was Newcastle Brown Ale which is world famous in its distinctive clear glass 1-pint bottle and typical of an English-style brown ale.
Light and nutty, an English brown ale has sweet malty flavors and aromas of caramel, chocolate, and toffee with an earthy and sometimes floral hop profile.
American brown ales will have many of the same flavors but with a more pronounced hop profile (we like our hops here in the US!)
Citrussy or fruity hoppy aromas are often combined with the floral and almost herbal aroma found in English-style brown ales. Being American, we also like to add lots of adjuncts to our brown ales including coffee, cocoa, and even maple syrups.
The easygoing nature of American brown ales makes them a perfect pairing for most foods. They make a nice accompaniment to a BBQ, served cold from the can on a midsummer’s night, or in a mug on a winter’s night in a cozy tavern with a traditional T-bone and fries feast.
Let’s take a look at the top 11 American Brown Ales on the market at the moment to “warm your cockles” as the British would say!
Bolo Coconut Brown Ale by Burial Beer Co. (5.6% ABV)
Sitting at the dark end of the spectrum, with a very dark brown color, Bolo Coconut Brown Ale is brewed with nine barley malts, oats, and brown sugar.
It is then aged over real coconut for an aroma reminiscent of a bowl of granola with a good bit of chocolate and hints of coffee and nuts coming through too.
Pouring with a deep brown color, the beer has a creamy tan head which almost reminds me of latte foam that quickly dissipates to a thin layer at the top of your glass. Although you can certainly taste the coconut, first and foremost this is a brown ale with those characteristic flavors of roasty malts, chocolate, and subtle coffee notes.
The coconut hits your palate towards the end of the tasting. With a dry bitter edge in the finish, Bolo reminds us of some of our favorite Irish Stouts.
Certainly one of the most fun American brown ales on the market!
Indian Brown Ale by Dogfish Head Craft Brewery (ABV 7.2%)
Not strictly speaking an American brown ale, this innovative beer from DogFish Head, one of the most adventurous craft brewers out there, is a hybrid of three popular types of ale.
With characteristics of each style that inspired it, Indian Brown Ale has the color of an American Brown, the caramel notes of a Scotch Ale, and the hopping regime of an IPA.
The Indian Brown is dry hopped in a similar way to Dogfish Heads 60 Minute IPA and is brewed with aromatic barley and the addition of brown sugar.
A mild pleasant hop aroma is balanced with a roasty malt and the beer has a dark but opaque appearance. A medium-bodied beer, it has flavors of roasty sweet malt with mild hop bitterness & brown sugar notes and a slightly dry finish.
If you are not quite ready to give up the IPAs yet, this IPA/Brown Ale hybrid may be the beer you are looking for.
Maduro Brown Ale from Cigar City Brewing (ABV 5.5%)
Hailing from South Florida this well-balanced brown ale, Maduro is a dark brown ale with toffee aromas and a bready taste that shows hints of espresso and nutty maltiness with just the right amount of carbonation.
Brewed with flaked oats, this brown ale takes inspiration from a Northern English brown ale style but reminds us of its American nature with a woody, hoppy presence.
Full-bodied and silky on the palate, those chocolate and espresso hints are complimented by toffee-like qualities.
The perfect brown ale to enjoy with chicharrones, ropa vieja (it’s a Florida thing I’m told!), or even a fine hand-rolled cigar as recommended by the guys at Cigar City Brewing.
Brekle’s Brown by Anchor Brewing (ABV 6%)
Named in honor of Gottlieb Breckle who founded Anchor brewing way back in 1871, Breckle’s Brown is a celebration of over 140 years of brewing tradition and inspired by the best all-malt brown ales in Anchor’s brewing archives.
Using the Citra hop in the brewing process imparts unique American hoppy flavors and aromas to this classic American Single Hop Brown Ale.
Juicy Citra hops and caramel malts also give a surprisingly creamy cherry-like taste to this brown ale from one of America’s oldest breweries.
if you are looking for a no-nonsense brown ale with years of tradition behind it, you shouldn’t look any further than this offering from Anchor Brewing – they’re not just about the IPA!
Board Meeting by Port Brewing (ABV 8.5%)
With an alcohol content of 8 percent ABV, this brown ale from Californian-based brewers Port Brewing falls into its own class of Imperial American Brown Ale.
Board Meeting is an all-year-round ale that Port Brewing describes as an amplified brown ale brewed with generous amounts of roasted coffee beans.
A deep strong coffee flavor gives way to layers of bitter dark chocolate and a creamy vanilla body.
Whereas coffee and cocoa can often dominate the flavor of some beers, Port Brewing has carefully layered the flavors in this beer allowing them to perfectly complement each other.
Coffee Bender by Surly Brewing Co (ABV 5.5%)
Coffee Bender is a highly caffeinated version of Surly Brewing’s house oatmeal brown ale which adds locally roasted Guatemalan coffee to the brew.
Cold press coffee aromatics and an intense coffee flavor are balanced with a malt bill which includes six different malts including oats and chocolate for the sweetness common to brown ales.
Surly describes the taste of this brown ale as similar to drinking iced coffee with a coffee bean aroma adding to the caffeine experience.
The overall mouthfeel is like a creamy cappuccino but in your favorite beer with Columbus and Williamette hops adding a subtle hoppy after bite.
An American brown ale for coffee lovers everywhere!
La Folie Wood-Aged Sour Brown Ale by New Belgium Brewing Company (ABV 6.5%)
Influenced by the Flanders style of brown ale, we are including this in our list of the best American brown ales as it is actually brewed in Colorado by two American Belgian beer fanatics.
French for “eccentric madness,” La Folie is seen by many as a pioneering sour American brown ale. Matured for several years in large French oak barrels called Foeders, America’s oldest continuous souring culture is used to create a brown ale reminiscent of the popular Belgian lambic beers.
The resulting flavor is one of green apple, cherry, and notes of plum skin. With a deep mahogany color on pouring, the sour mouthfeel will make you pucker but the ale has a smooth finish from the extensive grain bill of Pale, Munich, C-80, Chocolate & Special W.
If you are a fan of Belgian beer, try to hunt down this sour masterpiece!
Nut Brown Ale by Ithaca Beer Co. (ABV 5.6%)
Although they are better known for their flagship IPA, Flower Power (recognized as one of the “25 Most Important American Craft Beers Ever Brewed” by Food & Wine magazine), Nut Brown Ale by Ithaca Beer Co has also been causing a stir on the craft beer scene.
On pouring Nut Brown, the first thing you will notice is the rich mahogany hue. A full-bodied brown ale, chocolate, and caramel notes are moderate in this flavorful easy-to-drink brew.
Although it uses a complex malt bill with Northern Brewer hops added for good measure, the end result is surprisingly smooth with nutty-bread-like flavors coming through.
If you liked their IPA and are looking for moderately dark ale, why not hunt down one of these fine examples of an American brown ale?
Old Brown Dog by Smuttynose Brewing Co. (ABV 6.5%)
A classic example of the American brown ale style, Old Brown Dog is a fuller-bodied brown ale than many of its English counterparts and has a stronger hoppy finish with Cascade, Galena, and Williamette hops.
Don’t worry too much though, the hops are restrained and allow the malt to shine through with tones of chocolate, nutty toastiness, cocoa, and bread crust layers with a light caramel finish.
The bitterness from the hops gives just the right amount of balance to the malts with alcohol drying out the finish.
Old Brown Dog differs from many other examples of dark beer as it doesn’t display the same sharp, roasty character and is much smoother and easier to drink.
Around for many years, Old Brown Dog was first brewed at the Northampton Smuttynose Brewery in 1988 and won a silver medal in the American Brown Ale category at the Great American Beer Festival in 1989.
Sumatra Mountain Brown by Founders Brewing Co. (ABV 9%)
The first thing you probably noticed about this American brown ale was the higher-than-average ABV of 9%. Sumatra Mountain Brown still falls into this category but in a class of its own known as an Imperial Brown Ale.
A bold, brown ale, this beer gets its body from a malt bill which includes caramel malts for the sweetness, flaked barley for dense foam, and chocolate malts for the dark color with aromatic Munich malts adding even more depth to the flavors.
The malty sweetness is balanced with a touch of bitterness from the German and Perle hops which are used in this brew, and the addition of Sumatra coffee gives this brown ale a level of decadence deserving of the name Imperial.
Probably one of the strongest brown ales you will find in the bar, Sumatra Mountain Brown is a perfectly balanced brown ale.
Honey Brown by Genesse Brewing Co. (ABV 5.6%)
Gennese Brewing is better known in craft beer circles for an outstanding Cream Alebut, but they have now launched their first American Brown Ale with Honey Brown.
I say brown ale, but really, that is in name only; the beer has more of an amber, almost golden body. But those sweet malty tastes of brown ale are accentuated by the addition of honey to the beer.
With a rich honey aroma, this ale has a light grainy malt with subtle floral hop aromas. This easy-drinking flavor has hints of fruit honey with low hop bitterness and is often likened to a berry soda in taste.
The sweetness of this beer lingers with the berry esters adding interest to what is otherwise a very simple brown ale.